Am I here? Are you here? Are any of us actually here?
No, that’s not a philosophical question about the reality of this life; it’s a comment on the fact that many of us are, for much of the time, not fully present. We are distracted. We are talking to someone and a text arrives. ‘I’d better get this,’ we say. Why? Or we are looking at a terrific view and our first thought is to take a photo and upload it to Facebook. Why? What could be better than just appreciating the view? Or we are walking to work past a magnificent magnolia tree (it’s that time of year right now!) and we don’t notice it because we’re in a hurry or thinking about that meeting or phone call or email. It’s spring, people! But do we notice?
I first started to change my bad habits when I lived in Madrid. It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be there forever; so I made a conscious effort to notice things: the architecture, the sky, the light, the art; everything I came across. There is beauty everywhere, even if you live in a dump, as the film ‘American Beauty’ shows in that scene with the carrier bag. Carrier bags are not considered to be beautiful, but they can be: look at the picture above and try to get past your feelings of disgust at the way plastic pollutes the world. Is it not beautiful? It flies in the wind with its own grace. There’s beauty in everything if you want to see it. But in order to see it you have to stop and look.
Much has been written about the desirability of doing one thing at a time. If I was having dinner with someone who was continually on their mobile, I’d walk out: similarly to arrive at a beautiful location and just take photos is an insult to the location.
When I began to study yoga I was introduced to the idea that happiness comes from concentration. By concentration I don’t mean a ‘Rodin’s Thinker’ style screwing up of the attention but an unbroken flow, like when you’re completely absorbed in a book or film (or person). This, I learned, is the reason why new things make us happy – because we focus on them completely. They absorb us. But that soon fades and if we’re not careful we seek the next new thing, instead of learning that it’s the focus that matters, not the thing.
So in order to be happy we merely have to be present.
Are you here?