I turned 38 yesterday. When I was younger, I used to pore over the pages of teen magazines, feeling as though 17 were so far away. I still feel that way, though for a different reason. That being said, we’re kind of all of the ages that we’ve ever been inside, aren’t we? They’re all there, leaning awkwardly on one another – disorganized files haphazardly placed in our mind’s cabinet. I remember my first day of kindergarten as clearly as I remember my first high school dance. It’s hard, too, to say whether the job I held at a community arts center came before or after certain boyfriends, trips, life events. And, though it’s hard to remember many of the specifics about when my son was 6 months old now that he’s 5, he’ll always be both the age he is now, and all of the ages he’s ever been before. Funny that, time.
There have been blog posts in the hundreds (thousands?) discussing the well-intentioned older woman in the supermarket who looks wistfully at said writer’s screaming children and, with a sigh, tells her to “savor this time. It goes by so fast.” The number of times this, and other similar sentiments have been spoken aloud to me and my peers is innumerable, and we are all aware, even in the long days, of the swift passage of time, of our 2 year olds as teenagers – the image made more vivid as they chuck their cute little two year old sneaker at our heads.
Savor. What does it mean to do that, exactly? Am I squeezing the life out of every last second spent with my children? Am I failing miserably to do so when my daydreaming takes the shape of a weekend away, my only company my yoga mat, novels, and a comfortable bed? And, does savoring the moment apply only to those moments filled with joy and wonder, my time on the mat and sleeping children, or can it apply to diaper changes and rushing to preschool pickup?
So much of yoga and meditation is about living in the present, being here and now, and yet, as part of the human condition, we are acutely aware of what has come before us and what we project to lie ahead. We’re not always right in these recollections and assumptions. Rarely, in fact. But they’re still there, imbedded in memory and road mapped on the future. We are all of the ages we’ve ever been and so is everyone else. AND all we have is this moment.
If we’re honest, sometimes the moment isn’t what we’ve imagined. Sometimes it sucks. Not always in the “go the F to sleep” kind of way, either. There is pain and suffering in the world. There is disparity. There are awful diseases that strike kind people, bombs that hit humanitarian aid trucks. There is racial inequity and childhood cancer. Events that noone ever hopes will cross the road that they’re mapping.
I dare not delve into events I haven’t experienced. My ability to be present, to relish the moment, is questionable during the best of times. If I were to experience great tragedy, savor would likely not be a verb I’d utilize. Having said that, truly living individual moments and life events, both monumental and seemingly insubstantial, is an almost elusive goal toward which I will continue to strive.
My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on September 11, 2008. He passed away the following April. He was 59. I was 30. Selfishly, perhaps, I was fortunate to have those 6 months to face what seemed both inevitable and impossible. During the first few months of his illness, I pondered a way to connect with him in a way that we hadn’t previously. I wanted to know his thoughts on religion, politics, globalization. I thought about using some sort of recording device so that I could capture his ideas on the deep topics we discussed. Prior to one of my trips north, I had lunch with my friend Paula. Without my saying anything, she advised, “You don’t know what’s going to happen. Don’t try now, to have a different relationship with your dad than you’ve always had. He loves you. You love him. That’s all that you need to know.” There was such freedom in those words, in that sentiment. I lived those months prior to my dad’s death in a state of connection that I had never before experienced for such an extended amount of time. Colors were vivid, relationships with friends cherished, small complaints negligible. It wasn’t a joyful time, and I sometimes feel guilty for the gratitude I feel for those months. But I was present for my sorrow and for my anger as well as for the smaller moments that would normally be passed by in a wave of something else happening inside of my head.
Admittedly, those life-changing times, whether they are challenging or joyous (or challenging AND joyous, i.e. birth) are easier to really live, and to carefully place in that filing system within our minds. The everyday events in life present the real obstacles to mindfulness. Living in the moment when greeting your baby for the first time is a good deal easier than savoring the 78th trip to the local playground. These everyday occurrences get lumped and filed together in a block of memory, murky and indistinguishable from the 77 previous trips.
Enter yoga. A practice focused on movement and mindfulness, on the stillness found in that movement, and in the moment. Even when it’s your 784th downward facing dog, it’s still the first occasion for that particular one. Funny that, time. It’s a huge practice, and an amazingly simple one. And for the 1% of the time that I manage to find myself there, in the moment, I’ll savor it.