‘How Can I Learn to Be More Present?’
Illustration: Pedro Nekoi
I just passed a big milestone! It’s been a year since packing up my life and moving across the country for my first job after grad school. I’ve had the greatest time this past year, and despite the challenges and fears I had about moving, I love my new city, have made good friends, and really enjoy the new job. Things turned out pretty well!
The thing is, this job has an expiration date — it’s going to end once I wrap up this project sometime in the spring/early summer of ’23. I’ve known from the start this project was temporary, and I haven’t been dealing with it in the healthiest way. For the most part, I try not to think about it at all, but it’s started to feel like this big, looming thing in the back of my head that begs to be acknowledged.
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of feelings of shame about “wasting” my time left in my city and not doing enough to fully appreciate my time here. On top of that, now that I’ve reached the one-year mile marker, it seems like everything is going so fast, like even if I was capable of stopping and smelling the flowers, the blossoms would wilt and decay before I could even manage a sniff.
I want to fully immerse myself in these next eight months or so and live as presently in it as I can, but I find myself mourning something that is still very much alive. At the same time, I want to process the shame and fear so that this time next year I don’t have regrets about the end of this chapter. How do I celebrate where I am in this part of my life without ignoring the tricky feelings I have about the hyperspeed time warp that is my mid-twenties?
Hey there, TT!
Goodness, can I relate.
Time is tricky. It’s a river we’re all afloat on, but concentrating on it too hard will cause panic — you’ll start to drown. I’m approaching your dilemma from an opposite angle. I’m not having a good time, and I’m keenly, painfully aware of how slow time is passing as I wait for the funk to end. I feel absent, like I’m not actually experiencing anything, a mere witness to the events around me.
It’s odd, isn’t it? “Awareness” sounds like a good thing, but it isn’t inherently so. I can see why we’re all still mad about Adam and Eve nibbling on the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Knowledge sucks. Sentience has brought me multiple instances of displeasure.
It’s not uncommon within this (frankly) flawed system to find yourself in a paradox: You want to enjoy everything the present has to offer, to feel with all five senses the essence of the moment. And yet, the best moments seem to come when we’re not actively looking for them or trying to capture them in a jar, when we’re not thinking at all.
Nor is it uncommon, when we find ourselves in pain or wading through sadness or swimming in discomfort, to wish we could evacuate the minutiae of being, to exempt ourselves from those dreadful, waking seconds that feel more like hours. We might dissociate, become aliens to ourselves in order to avoid the unbearable brunt of reality, of “the present.”
What unites the two is a desire to control an uncontrollable phenomenon. Time does what it wants, it expands and contracts, it ticks forward — and you and I, we’re here. We’re in it. What do we make of that? Where do we go? How do we go?
I think, TT, that there is a lot of power in surrender when faced with such a dilemma. Let’s look at what we must accept: Yes, one day, your job will end. Everything does. There’s not a thing in this life that won’t. Things change. We move.
But that doesn’t mean more good things aren’t coming. That doesn’t mean there won’t be other experiences that will make you stop and think, I want to keep this one forever. This is the part we can control: being open to what the future brings and being confident in our ability to meet its gifts with gratitude. We can resolve not to get in their way when they arrive.
It’s ego that tells us we can get more juice by squeezing the present as hard as we can. More effort doesn’t always mean more reward. Sometimes overplanning, overworking, and overthinking are simply anxiety masquerading as productivity. Sometimes it’s harder, and better, to simply let go.
This isn’t us embracing helplessness or admitting defeat. There are times in this life to be rigid, and times to be flexible. When we accept that there are things beyond our control, we can better embrace the present.
Enjoy the rest of your time with your job, TT! Don’t spend too much time worrying that you’re not savoring things enough or that you’re missing out on the flowers. There will be more flowers. You aren’t sinking. You don’t even have to swim. You just have to float.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on September 7, 2022.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.