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.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.