Saturday 8 January 2011

Fast forward thinking

New year is a time for reflection. And, if there's not much from the past year to reflect on, it's to think about what the following one might bring. THIS year, I'll lose weight. This year I'll find my dream job. T.H.i.S. year I will meet the man of my dreams/get a half-decent proposal/see the pyramids/finish War and Peace/win the lottery so I can afford a house deposit/long weekend away to escape the royal wedding/my yearly commuter ticket.

We are constantly thinking of what we are going to do. I must ask the team at work more about what they are going to do that night/tomorrow/at the weekend than what they are actually working on right now. The question is more often 'when?' not 'what?'

This has come to my mind, as for the first time in a long time, I find myself with a day off to do nothing. I have planned it this way. Last week I did all the shopping, all my work, the cleaning. Last night I ran so I wouldn't have to again until tomorrow. My alarm was set to wake me up to do nothing which had to be done except potter. Pottering, I think it should be said, is under-rated, and this is not just a women's thing. To potter is to put yourself back in your own life and environment and pleasurably pass an hour/afternoon/day/week (OK, some people are professional potterers!) doing those little mindless things such as counting out and bagging your copper jar, or reading back copies of that magazine subscription you hadn't had time for; or making cakes and soups.

Why is pottering perfect to my point today? Pottering is present. It requires no to-do lists, nor a plan. Pottering flows from one thing to another, keeping thoughts and actions in the present. To potter is to be, with pleasure.

Why is it, then, that we need to push ourselves into our unknown futures so often? One good reason, which I discussed with a glum friend this week, is that we need things to look forward to. This is valid and a valued part of forward planning. "I need something to work towards. I need to arrange something to look forward to, or life is dull." In times of deadlines and chores piled high, that weekend meal with friends, or the massage at the end of the month when the paycheck arrives, is a welcome relief and something to get us through the times at the grindstone.

But what if our now, wherever it may be (home, office, school) held promise and value? After a frustrating morning at work this week, I looked down at my keyboard, fingers frozen as outside thoughts took over concentration. I wanted to let out a little scream, but instead, I noticed my finger nails, which, after finally giving up biting them, had been growing. And still are. I smiled. That little moment rooted me back in a present which wasn't just about the misery of depending on others or the list of things to do.

There are probably a million self help books about positive thinking in the present, and they probably have expert advice about all this. I am not trying to out-do them here. I am sure they make sense. It's not easy to stay in the present. That's something social media such as Twitter and Facebook do try to do, though. The 'what are you doing/thinking/playing/working on now?' does show an effort to stay in the present moment, albeit to then spread it about the world. John Smith is in the supermarket queue: some people's now is obviously not as interesting as what they might be doing later, however!

So, this year, I have no idea where my life will be taking me, on any front. Will Martín and I move house? I don't know. Will I get a permanent contract at work? I don't know. Will we go to Argentina for Christmas? I don't know. Will I beat my last marathon time? I don't know. Will I finish my book? I don't know. (Are Arsenal going to beat Leeds today, from losing 1-0 right now? I don't know!) There's no need to. My forward thinking is consumed by let's see rather than plan to see.

May you be having a happy new year, then. And that any forward thinking comes from the now you have, rather than the one you want to have. Living in the present can be the perfect gift to yourself.

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