Living abroad for a year is an interesting lesson in presence. It asks you: can you be fully here now, without worrying about the future or wishing for something else? I don’t think that question is unique to living abroad – in fact I think it’s always being asked of all of us in one way or another – but you can hear it so much more loudly when you only have one year of living somewhere.
For me at least, it’s often a struggle. Let me be clear: I love my life here in Korea and am so grateful for the opportunities it’s given me. Yet at the same time, with two months to go, I feel like I’m ready for the next stage in my adventure. Striking that balance of appreciation and presence vs. planning and looking forward is hard. Staying present, both in everyday moments and in this broader chapter of my life, is hard.
One of my favorite quotes is from Meryl Streep: “I want to feel my life while I’m in it”. And I do think that the magic happens in the moment, not after it’s passed. I think happiness happens now, not after some distant milestone in the future. And on a deeper level, I recognize that we only really have this moment, right now – though this idea is much easier to grasp conceptually than it is to apply it in the real world.
Still, I don’t want to sleepwalk through my life and I don’t want to be on autopilot. I want to be fully conscious, even if that means experiencing the hard things and the boring things and the tedious things. Because as Brené Brown says: “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
And I think that being caught up and just going through the motions every day is a form of numbing those negative emotions of boredom and anxiety. It’s so, so easy to go through a day without having a special, positive experience to light it up. And of course, it can be incredibly hard to choose to look for those moments or be open to them. When I’m late, when I’m tired, when I’m stressed and overwhelmed, or when the children are screaming and running around the classroom, it’s easy to shut down and tune out and think only about me me me.
In fact, staying present and choosing is probably the hardest thing I’ll ever try to do. There’s a speech by David Foster Wallace that I come back to again and again in my life that talks all about this, and it’s definitely worth a listen.
Some days I succeed at noticing other people and seeing lovely moments and finding the humour and actively appreciating. Other days go by in a haze of headphones and distraction and little-to-no eye contact. Some days I remember to make an effort and other days I am so caught up in my head that I totally forget to even try. Most days are a combination of both. It’s helpful to remind myself that I am always trying my best, whatever my best is on that given day. I think that working on staying present is a daily lifelong challenge, or as Laura says, “a mountain with no top”.
This week on the podcast, we’re talking all about presence: practices that help us stay in the moment, quotes that offer us perspective, why presence matters so much, how it can improve our relationships, and how it can make us happier. You can find the episode and the show notes here or subscribe on iTunes here.