What are your fondest memories of being completely present, in any situation? Are they plentiful or scarce? If you are anything like me, the responsibilities of adulthood are constantly distracting you from the pleasures of ‘presentness’. There are resources I have come to rely on in order to experience the stillness of absolute being, such as alcohol or music, but they are fleeting, and honestly, an illusion. As a consequence, perhaps, it feels increasingly uncommon to stumble across these moments when I’m not actively trying to induce them, and yet that is when they are most profound.
I won’t claim to have the answer, or even a solution remotely close, to this dilemma of epic proportions. I only know that it’s important to be mindful of your need for ‘presentness’ without trying to force yourself into it; to let the desire ferment in your subconscious, allowing you to be open to stimuli if it ever arises, without getting too intellectual about the entire process. Another thing I would say: your body and soul tend to require a little injection of unfamiliarity for you to get out of your own head. That’s essentially how it works for me – you might disagree completely.
Here goes – I am compelled to share a powerful scene of presence with you. Writing about it serves as a firm reminder of the importance of ‘presentness’, and I hope reading about it will have a similar influence on you. I could pontificate in conceptual terms endlessly, but it would descend into meaningless conjecture and result in very little being learnt and actually integrated into the self (this sentence should serve as a prime example).
Here we are. Him and I. ‘Joel’ and I (yes, I am sticking to the Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind references for the sake of continuity). His wife Clementine is using the glorious public bathrooms – daughter in tow – at the petrol station where they stopped off for a sharp gasp of air and whatever else might be required. In my case, food and then a quick piss. Sure they have a perfectly fine toilet in their campervan, but I don’t want to make myself too comfortable. I am an Englishman after all. After a minute of small talk Joel hands me a Cherry infused Belgium beer, brewed in Brussels where he lives with Clementine. The first sip is a colourful explosion: charming, intriguing, distinct, bitter, sweet, light, punchy, addictive. It is so gorgeous I fixate on it, telling Joel how impressed I am by the varied range of flavours. He smiles, displaying pride for his homeland despite his cold disinterest in Brussels itself. Earlier he told me, “It’s a lifeless city”, and from my brief visit in August I had to say, “That was my first impression.” We are near the border of Spain, and you can really feel it. The climate is much hotter, and the sun has finally smashed through the clouds that hung over the highway for the last few hours. I pull off my raincoat and woollen jumper, revealing my skin tight Adidas sports top – I had planned to keep it hidden. At ease, we brush away all remaining traces of ‘small talk’ and revert to random, childish subjects. ”Look at the swarm of ants on the ground below us”, I inanely blurt out. “There’s their Queen”, Joel observes, pointing to the holy mother of all ants in the centre of their gathering. She is magnificently bold and strong in comparison to her ‘disciples’. Her back is twice as black and looks relatively impenetrable, her legs are noticeably thicker, like the base of an oak tree juxtaposed with its branches. Even her movement is distinct in its confident grace. OK, maybe that particular perception is down to my state of sleep deprivation, but we’ll never know for sure. Clementine and their daughter emerge, merrily joining the conversation. But almost immediately the little girl begs her mother to play, so they drift off into a kind of ‘Catch me if you can’ game, parking lot style. I sense she wants to play partly because of her soaring energy levels, and partly because talking to a stranger is still fairly intimidating to her, even though I’m certain she likes me. Watching them resonates with me deeply. Their carefree movement perfectly embodies unconditional love, the rapture of love in which everything else fades away and is momentarily lost. Now it makes me reflect on the fact that the desire for romantic love can sometimes be a desire for escapism; then all that filled my mind was their love, pure and plentiful. Joel and I are quiet as our eyes follow them running around in circles. Clearly neither of us feel any pressure to speak, and find calm contentment in the ability to share a silent moment. It’s a charming contrast between how still we are and how exuberant they are. Once Clementine is breathless, they wrap up their game and we all return to the car, ready for the next segment of the journey. I am in no rush to leave, which is seriously out of character for me.