Present Tense

It was about twenty years ago that I attended my first yoga class. I’ve been going to yoga classes on and off ever since—lately, more off than on, though I occasionally do a few stretches on my own. I think it was at that first class that I was introduced to the concept of “living in the present”. Now, everybody talks about living in the present as a measure of psychological and emotional health. Which probably means I’m in trouble.

In my own defense, I remind myself that if everybody lived entirely in the present, there’d be no supper. But I know that’s not really what it means. I have a lot of trouble keeping my mind from casting both backward and forward—remembering, reliving, regretting; or fantasizing, anticipating, dreading. It’s an effort for me to stay still and just experience this moment for whatever it is. I’m more likely to find myself imagining a more perfect moment in the future, or looking back on past moments and editing them.

Some years after my introduction to yoga, I took up tai chi briefly. One day while punching the tiger in the ears, I had a bit of an epiphany. I found that if I didn’t look to the future at all while moving from punching low to waving my arms like clouds, I had to crane my neck to see what everyone else was doing. But if I looked too far ahead—say trying to remember what came after the fair lady working shuttles while I was still repelling the monkeys—I couldn’t find my way to the next move. In other words, I had to be peering just over the edge of the present into the near future. Of course, the epiphany itself disrupted the graceful tai chi flow. Later, I thought about playing the piano, which I do occasionally and badly, and realized it was the same. Cast your mind to the next few notes, but no more or you’re lost—especially if you get cocky about how well you’re doing.

At the moment, I’m trying to savour the present. For the last six months, I’ve been careening from past to future and back again. First, for a couple of months, imagining where I might live if I moved from here, remembering all the years I have lived here, avoiding the present because it was fraught with confusion. Then, when that was put to rest, lurching through a summer that had many more commitments than the usual summer. Each one was a pleasure—a theatre-week, family gatherings, writing workshops, new baby—but the weeks between became lead-ups to the next event rather than moments of their own.

Now, I am settling in for two uninterrupted months at home—just what I’ve been yearning for. So what do I find myself doing? Obsessing about the next big event, which will be our annual migration to Mexico in late December. Counting the weeks, feeling the time slip by. Stop! Go back to punching that tiger and remember to peer just over the edge into the near future! Today, that will include raking leaves on this perfect, sunny and crisp October morning, and then tea (hopefully with cookies) with a friend this afternoon.

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2 Responses to Present Tense

  1. Erica says:

    That title is Dad-worthy!

  2. “Just peer into the near future” a lovely insight. And, those tai-chi references are hilarious!

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