A friend came over for tea a few weeks ago. As she was leaving, she stopped on my front porch and thought for a minute.
“Men seem to be able to live in the moment better than women can,” she said.
Don’t you just love friends who leave complex questions on your front porch? It’s like a hostess gift for writers— don’t bring me wine or flowers, bring an interesting thought. Please and Thank you.
Earlier on, over a cup of coffee and a custard tart, Michele told me about the new training she was receiving at the hospital. She’s a neonatal nurse. Management had decided that all staff needed coaching on how to be ‘present’. It seems an odd, almost hippie approach to what the hospital is trying to avoid: mistakes. The research has shown that ‘thinking ahead’, combined with fatigue and high-stress levels are causing unnecessary errors. (This is a brief, most likely inaccurate explanation of their reasons for the training, but it’s how I remember the conversation.)
The example she gave was this: While washing their hands before going into a patient’s room, staff have been coached to focus on the act of washing. This may seem obvious, but in actuality, most often the nurse is already thinking about all the steps she needs to take once she has entered the room. The training states that being present during the most simple of tasks can achieve far more than we think it would.
Being present, i.e., not giving your mental energy to what will happen or what has happened, is not voodoo nonsense. It is the narrowing down of mental stimuli and the processing of a single focal point. When you do this, you respond physically— your breathing gets deeper, increasing oxygen flow. You improve your mental capacity. Focusing on a particular task, with your mind participating in the physical action, you perform that task more accurately and with expediency. It’s a wonder that ‘in-the-moment’ training isn’t compulsory in every workplace.
Michele’s comment made on my doorstep, the one about men being more present than women, was not a comprehensive assessment of all masculine mental abilities. She made the observation with our particular husbands in mind after I had relayed a particular frustration I have when it comes to Mike and his particular brand of ‘thinking’. She has the same experience with her husband, which prompted the aforementioned statement.
This was the sample conversation I conveyed to her:
Sitting lakeside with, Mike, after a few minutes of quiet contemplation, I ask, “So, what are you thinking?”
“What do you mean?” says Mike.
“What do you mean what do I mean? I mean… what are your thoughts?”
“Nothing,” says he.
“Rubbish, you can’t be thinking nothing. That’s impossible.”
“Honestly, I was not thinking about anything.”
“But I saw you concentrating. You were looking at the water and concentrating, so there, you must have been thinking something.”
“I was just looking at the water! What the hell do you want me to be thinking?!”
“Well, did you think, oh the water is brown— it’s muddy. Or did you imagine swimming in it? Or were you imagining holding my head under that water, watching tiny little bubbles floating to the surface?”
“Yes, that last one. That’s what I was thinking.” Fade to black.
You see, when, Mike was looking at the lake his mind was entirely focused on ‘the looking’. He wasn’t thinking about looking; he was just doing it. HOW DOES HE DO THAT?! I never, not even for a few split seconds just do anything. At any given moment, I’m considering the past and future actions that pertain to that given present moment. I’m thinking, how would I write this moment? How would I describe the snot bubble coming out of my child’s nose? Why does snot congeal like that? I must google snot. Her snot has never been this green… except when she was two; then she had loads of green snot. I detest snot, snot-snot, booger, boogey… all this happened in my head in three seconds. I know you understand, Reader. You probably think just like I do; Mike is an anomaly.
Since that tea date with, Michele I have made a concerted effort to be more ‘present’. It hasn’t gone well. The truth is, I don’t seem to have the know how. Being in the moment is hard!
I have taken to pixelating my days. This seems more feasible.
Here’s how I do it: I zoom in very closely to any given moment, and I apply a sensory filter to that little pixel of my life. For instance, I jump into the pool for my morning swim. I sink under the water and swoosh; I focus on those few seconds. Little bubbles make their way up my swim cap, it tickles. I can see all the way to the other side of the pool. I can hear the drowning sound of music playing outside. I smell and taste chlorine. I am present in the pool.
I’ve been trying to do this at least twice a day, and I’d like to work my way up to once an hour. Taking little pixel photo’s of my life; feeling every stimulus, is perhaps not as effortlessly ‘present’ as Mike can be. But I’ve been noticing a few benefits already.
I’m more creative; my stories are fleshing out well with more sensory detail. I’m more grateful. I realise how many little moments are enjoyable. Before, I would have moved right over those moments and been oblivious to the tiny pleasure I had there.
I also think it’s helping me be a better listener. We’ll see.
At any rate, I’m trying something new, and that is always fodder for the imagination. And friends, at the end of the day, it’s my imagination that matters the most. Imagine not being able to imagine?! What a boring life you’d have, unimaginable.