Best of 2009: Gwen Bell blog challenge

Yesterday: Challenge: Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you?

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, marinading in the question and wondering how to express the challenges of this year. I don’t think there was a specific new challenge this year. Instead, I’d say a lifelong challenge has made itself newly urgent. I’ve been dogged for years with a nagging anxiety about my inability to really live in the moments of my life. This is surely both a symptom of and partially caused by my extreme multi-tasking. I rarely do one thing at a time. Almost never. I write in my head while I listen to songs while I run. I play tetris and read google reader while on conference calls. I pack lunches and empty the dishwasher and feed my children breakfast and mentally organize my day.

In the last few years this multi-tasking has started to fall apart in some small but inescapable ways. I’ll check my voicemail, remember that I had five messages, and hang up the phone with no idea what two of them were. I’ll walk into a room and not recall why I’m there. I’ll pour the wrong kind of milk in the wrong kid’s cereal. Etc. It’s made me wonder what I’m trying to escape by always doing several things at once. What am I afraid of? What am I hurrying from, and to?

But far more important than my lack of focus collapsing is my intense and growing awareness of what I’m missing. I’ve written before of my children that “their very bodies trace the inexorable forward motion of time.” For some reason, in the last year, the bittersweetness of this forward motion has become almost unbearable for me. Regrets have piled up in every corner: regrets about the things that I wasn’t really there for. And the sad part? I’m almost always physically there. Even though I work, it’s part-time and I am around my kids a lot. It’s the emotional and mental presence that I lack. Be Here Now? I can’t. I want to, desperately, but oh WOW is it hard for me.

I started thinking about this in a focused way over the summer, and these thoughts coalesced into an interview series I am doing on this blog called Present Tense. I’m talking to women I admire, women who I know juggle multiple identities and manifold demands, women who I know fret about and aim to be more conscious and present. I’m learning a lot from their answers, finding my reactions to and reflections on their words telling and instructive. I hope my readers are too. In truth, though, this is as much for me as for anyone. I am trying, I really am – trying to crank back the gears in my own head and heart by sheer force of will. I hope that the words and the thinking are a means to meaningful change in behavior and perspective, instead of (as my fearful heart sometimes whispers) a way of actually avoiding concrete shifts.

So this 2009’s challenge, and, I’m sure, that for 2010 as well. And beyond. I imagine this is a lifetime effort. Perhaps 2009 brought the awareness that I really want to live in the minutes of my life. After all, I know now that the meaning is in the minutes. One thing Present Tense has helped me see, though, is that it’s impossible (for me) to be present, fully engaged and aware, all the time. That is like staring into the sun. The emotional vulnerability of being fully present, fear of which no doubt contributes to my challenge in doing so, is such that I cannot do it all the time. I would burn my retinas, and my heart might explode.

Still, at least some of the time, I want to let go, turn off my brain, and fall backwards like in the Trust Fall at my camp years ago, believing that the net of my life will catch me.

Turning 35, realizing my children are growing out of their smallness, pouring whole milk onto my dairy-hating daughter’s Cheerios: these and many other wake-up calls have joined into a single, screaming message whose insistency I cannot ignore. Now. Now. Now. Like a drumbeat or a pulse, I cannot hear anything else. Now. Now. Now.


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7 Comments

  1. Yvonne Bynoe
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, I really enjoyed your post. Perhaps not living in the moment is the curse of overachievers. Women, especially who believe that they have to cram everything into a single day. I too, am trying to live in the moment. I am VERY slowly learning to appreciate how much richer my experiences are when I simple focus on the thing at hand. I may indeed miss some activity, but I am not missing the human exchange, between me and the other person.

    BTW, we had the opportunity to both be at the NYC Firestarter. It seems like Danielle brings together some great people.

    Warmest,
    Yvonne

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    What are we trying to escape by multitasking? By doing so many things at once, we are surely trying to distract ourselves from something. What is that something? I don't know.

    Thank you for thinking aloud, for making all of us think.

  3. emmajames
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Just breathe. Because the one thing I can say is everything keeps just moving faster. The only thing that seems to get me in the now is just breathing. Very. Big. Deep. Breaths.

  4. becca
    Posted December 10, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I don't think I'm EVER only doing one thing at a time. Ever. Phone/computer/conversation/cooking/writing – you name it, I'm doing it. And it makes me feel like I'm doing NOTHING well. But if I'm doing only one thing then I feel like I'm not accomplishing enough. It's lose/lose for me. But in my attempts to live in the moment, I think I'll also try to live selectively… one thing at a time.

    Thank you for this post Lindsey.

  5. Kate_TW
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    This is beautiful. It reminds me of something my meditation teacher talked about recently. The most important quality on the spiritual path is sincerity. Your words have so much of it. They feel healing to read.

  6. Posted January 2, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been looking all over for this!

    Thanks.

  7. Posted January 18, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Pretty cool site you’ve got here. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.