Thoughts on the HERE Year
Last April, I announced that I was undertaking a yearlong project called the HERE Year, that I would focus each month on a new topic or lens in an effort to better understand Presence, and to be more present in my life. I kicked it off with Home and then I moved on to:
I had a wonderful partner in my study: Lindsey Mead. And it was fitting that Lindsey and I were together last Tuesday evening - March 31 - because it was the last day of our HERE Year. We sat barefoot at my kitchen island and ate leftovers and talked about life and love and writing. We laughed and pontificated and came to no ready conclusions about anything.
That's the thing. The thing I'm at once psyched and sheepish to admit: There is no formula, no checklist, no hard-earned epiphany. Even after an entire calendar year of focusing our analytic energies on Presence, I'm not sure I have an obvious takeaway or lesson to share. I've decided that this is okay, maybe even better than okay.
This is real.
I had lunch with a dear friend last week. We talked about the past year, about what it means to be present as a person and as a parent and I said that I often felt kind of hypocritical to be exploring the idea of Here in such a way that necessitated being on my computer, or thinking, or snapping endless photos or writing - all things which on some level took me away from being here. This friend, she listened and looked at me and gave me the most delightful pep-talk. She said something like: You are far too hard on yourself. You need to stop apologizing. You are documenting your life in a way that is wonderful and not unprecedented. You are incredibly present in your own life. Own it.
I cannot express how important and timely her words were, how deeply they affected me and buoyed me. I went back out into the early spring day - a day that was finally, delightfully warm - and standing in the coy sunshine I felt a tremendous surge of optimism and peace. I looked around at the strangers and stories, at the city I love, and I felt keenly that I was right where I should be.
And so. This year was good. It was eye-opening, intellectually interesting and existentially affirming. And I suppose in an important sense it was very successful because here, on the other side, standing squarely in a new April, I feel more present than ever in this messy, magical life that is mine. That said, I will leave you all with a list of some of the things I learned this year:
1. Presence is not a one-size-fits-all preposition. It does not look the same for each of us.
2. Presence is not something we can perfect or achieve.It is something we must consistently work on, in our own lives, for ourselves. Distractions - internal and external - are ubiquitous and we must always steel ourselves against them.
3. Social media can be a tool to enhance presence. This is such an interesting one for me. From the beginning of this project, I've worried about whether I can be truly here in my life if I am so entrenched in a digital experiment on presence. What I've concluded is that technology and social media, used thoughtfully, can connect us even more to ourselves and our lives and to the precious, precarious present moment.
4. We must ask ourselves this question: Am I missing my life?This is a question we can only answer for ourselves. Only we know if we are slumbering through our days, missing moments we will never get back.
5. Presence is as, if not more, important than Happiness. We live in a culture steeped in messages of self-improvement. We are all told to prize happiness, that it is the ultimate goal. We want happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. And this is fine, and expected, but I think it is equally if not more important for us to strive to feel both happiness and sadness and all that falls in between. Life will never ever be purely happy; the goal, I think, is to be awake to, and in, our lives, whatever the quality of those lives is at any given moment.
6. HERE is the place to be. Life is short. The future is uncertain. The past is behind us. All we really have is this moment, this day, this now. Cliched yes, but we must do what we can to train our focus on here, to enjoy it and understand it and celebrate it. And, ultimately, this is not the work of a year, but of a lifetime.