Reflections on the Here Year

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At the top of Notre Dame, Paris, March 18th.  My memories of this moment include the sight of Paris spread below us, as well as the awe-inspiring, echoing sound of the bells and the uneven, centuries-worn stones under my feet.  I was there.

Tomorrow marks the last day of Aidan‘s Here Year, in which I was honored and delighted to participate alongside her.  I’ve been thinking about what the big lessons or takeaways from the year were, either for me or in general, and the truth is I’m not sure I have any.  I think the lessons of spending a year thinking about presence, in a bunch of different specific spheres (marriage, friendship, time) are quieter, somehow both more urgent and less headline-y than they might be.

More than anything, The Here Year reinforced something I’ve known for a while, and around which I’ve been circling, in both my writing and in my living.

Being present is the central task of my life.

Several years ago I began to orient in the direction of being engaged with, and aware of, my own days.  It has changed everything.  This shift is documented on this blog, whose early days included a series called Present Tense about all the challenges and rewards of presence. Over the years I’ve run into difficulty when people interpret my discussion of “presence” as a way of asserting that everything is perfect.  Let me be really clear: I am not saying that being present transforms everything into wonder and smooths out all the rough edges.  Far from it.  As I’ve said before, being aware of my own life opens me up to more joy and more sorrow simultaneously.  I assure you that there’s plenty of frustration and yelling and disappointment and irritation in my life.

I am far from a zen person.  I’m still often impatient, distracted, and snappy.  Sometimes I’m on my phone when I shouldn’t be.  Now and then I check my voicemail, listen to a series of messages, and realize when I hang up I can’t remember who half of them were from, because I wasn’t really paying attention.  But the thing is, I’ve improved a lot.  A lot.  When I started blogging, and writing about presence and awareness, I was pointing myself in the direction I wanted to go.  I can see that now.  Writing here helped me identify, and then pursue, something I desperately needed.

I suspect that anyone who knows me in real life would say I’m someone who speaks and moves fast and who doesn’t always pay as close attention as she should. Hopefully anyone who has known me for a while would also say that they’ve seen a change on this dimension in me (any of you who fit this qualification and are still reading, I’d welcome your observations).

Blogging is a practice.  A daily and weekly effort, one that I keep at because over time it has made such enormous changes in my life. I think of the Tolkien quote I saw yesterday, “Little by little, one travels far” (thanks, Dina Relles).  It seems so small, a gradual effort to pay attention, to put down my phone, to listen carefully, to look at the sky, and to record what I observed.  And yet, as over years the silt in a river carves an oxbow into the land, so the very contours of my own life have changed.

The Here Year helped me to see the fruit of these years of effort, and reminded me of the fundamental importance of the work required for me to be present.  To be here now.  These choices – to sit with a child and read a book, to look a friend in the eye, to listen to the birds in the bushes, to stand still and watch a sunset – small in the moment, maybe, but there’s nothing more important.

Paying attention allows me to fully inhabit my own life.  It doesn’t, however, slow time down.  It was a bitter realization for me that no amount of being present changes the fact that time flies by me, that moments sift through my fingers even as I grasp at them.  I routinely mourn experiences even while I am still living them.  I hate feeling so keenly aware of how fast it’s all going by, and of so fiercely missing things that are over.  But I also know it’s simply the only way I want to exist in this world.  I loved thinking about and talking about and writing about what it means to be here this last year with you, Aidan, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.


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11 Comments

  1. Posted March 30, 2015 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    “I was pointing myself in the direction I wanted to go.” This is happening to me in my own writing life right now, and it is terrifying and wonderful all at once. Thank you for naming this for me.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. So glad this resonates. As with all things, I didn’t realize that until I wrote it.

  2. Posted March 30, 2015 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Yes, please don’t stop anytime soon! What would I do? I love your writing, and I too try so hard to be present. I am not very good at it. But I am getting there. Your writing always helps remind me to be here now. xoxo

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much. I can think of no higher compliment. xox

  3. Diane
    Posted March 30, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    beautiful.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. xox

  4. Posted March 30, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I love your emphasis on being present as a process, not a destination. To me, your message has always been clear — that being present is a goal, a journey, something we do again and again and again. It’s never done. I actually find relief in that idea — this is something I don’t have to micro-manage or complete. It’s not something I’ll ever get a certificate or medal in 🙂 It’s just part of the day, whenever I choose it. Thanks!

    admin Reply:

    This comment brings tears to my eyes, the tears of YES … someone hears me. Thank you, thank you. What you write is precisely what I want to say, the truth at which I so awkwardly grasp, so reading that you heard it means so much. Thank you. xox

  5. Posted March 30, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    “I am far from a zen person. I’m still often impatient, distracted, and snappy. Sometimes I’m on my phone when I shouldn’t be…” Lindsey, we may have been separated at birth. 🙂 I love how you have pinpointed the struggles with being present, but also the reasons to keep trying. I feel exactly the same! Thank you!

    admin Reply:

    I’m so glad to know I’m not alone! 🙂 And glad to have found your work. xox

  6. Posted March 30, 2015 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Love this, Lindsey. Your own reflections on presence have helped me pay more attention to my own life. It’s a process – a long and messy and beautiful one.

    I keep thinking of Oliver Sacks’ recent op-ed and how he called this life “an enormous privilege and adventure.” Yes, yes. The other privilege is being awake to notice it.

    admin Reply:

    I adored that piece, and that image in particular. I think about it all the time. So, so true. I’m hugely honored to hear that what I share has had an impact on how you live your own life. Now: lunch or tea soon! xoxox

  7. Posted March 30, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I keep looking forward to being in the same here with you.

    One day.

    Lovely words, as ever.

    admin Reply:

    Me too. One day SOON. xox

  8. Posted March 30, 2015 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Lovely as always. I just read Tamara’s post today about blogging being her constant and now here I am and you are describing blogging as a practice. I had fallen in to a bit of a blogging lull and I think the universe is telling me to stick with it! Funny how that happens. More so when you are paying attention, I believe!

    admin Reply:

    Oh, how wonderful! I need to find Tamara’s post, because that’s true for me, too. I can’t imagine stopping at this point. Selfishly, I hope you keep at it since I so dearly love your words. xox

  9. Posted March 31, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey– welcome back! AND . . . this right here is such a powerful statement: “Being present is the central task of my life.” WOW. I think that has to be true for all of us . . . we just vacillate in and out of acceptance of that truth. Or we vacillate in and out of our willingness to work on it. That’s my opinion at least and I know it’s true for ME.

    Beautiful post and congrats on a solid year with The Here Year series.

    admin Reply:

    Yes, I have to say I agree with you … but everyone engages with that task to a varying degree, I guess. xox

    admin Reply:

    So, that sounds a little more holier than though than I intend…. I guess I just mean people focus on it or they don’t, and everybody finds the right place to train their own gaze, as it were.

  10. Posted March 31, 2015 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Love. That quote, these words, your here, you. Your quest for presence this year has helped me & many pay more attention to everything in our achingly beautiful and ephemeral world. Endless thanks…xo

  11. Posted April 1, 2015 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    “It seems so small, a gradual effort to pay attention, to put down my phone, to listen carefully, to look at the sky, and to record what I observed.”
    YES. And I love that you remind me to do this, to practice it. Thank you. xo