Here and Now, There and Then
What’s a reader or writer of history and fiction to do with advice to stay fully present in the here and now? When I’m most deeply engrossed these days, my head’s in the eastern Mediterranean in the fifteenth century. Last year it was southern France and northern Italy in the 1580s. Where I am fully present, here and now, is there and then.
What do we do with guidance to bring awareness to all the feelings, thoughts, and sensations of the present moment? Granted, that form of mindfulness has its place (as does the here and now). But during a conversation, the more I’m aware of trucks rumbling on the highway, the less I’m taking in what you’re telling me. When I read a book, the more I notice my itchy mosquito bite, the less I remember what I just read. To give full attention to one thing is to withdraw attention from others.
Feel free to tell me I’m misinterpreting these ideas – and if you do, please offer a more useful way to think of them. In the meantime, here’s what seems to work for me. Sometimes give high focus to one activity or idea, near or far, shutting out everything else. Other times let the mind drift freely, soak in the atmosphere, listen to the birds or invent a story or feel the breeze. Acknowledge my emotions and then choose whether to wallow in them; escapism is not the same as denial. Minimize multitasking. Be where I am, doing what I’m doing, even if that’s thousands of miles away and centuries ago.
8/29/2016 07:10:44 pm
Sarah, you seem to be going a couple of different directions this week. I'll ponder on your first paragraph first.
Nothing as dire as you suggest, I'm happy to say! No, I haven't had this advice directed to me a writer or historian. Instead, I hear it directed to people in general, often as the key to happiness. Wash the dishes to wash the dishes. Which can be very meditative, it's true, but sometimes my mind is happily and productively elsewhere during a mechanical task. One assumption I often hear is that when people are thinking about something other than the dishes (or whatever), they are being obsessive or unhappy. Seems an odd assumption.
8/30/2016 08:21:22 am
Oh good. I understand that. Well, I think our subconscious is always at work, whether we are meditating and trying to keep our thoughts focussed or we are consciously letting our mind flit around. And I submit that the mosquito bite or truck noise isn't going to interfere with your remembering our conversation... Because, you see, the mosquito bite is all part of being in the moment. I think if you practice mindful meditation, your power of peripheral observation (and your ability to sort it out) will improve. The mosquito bit will no longer distract you, you will be able to acknowledge it and continue to concentrate at the same time.
Lisa, yes, the subconscious is always at work, and that helps keep us safe even when we're highly focused. Maybe the question is where to be in the range from "acknowledge" - pay attention to - and "acknowledge" - be at least subconsciously aware of. I submit that paying conscious attention to lots of things at once can slip into a kind of multitasking that sometimes impedes focus.
8/30/2016 02:46:22 pm
I submit that I agree about multitasking, or diffusing our focus, or paying conscious attention to several things at once!
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.