The Planner & The Present
Go to any Yoga Centre or take any Self-Help course these days and chances are someone will sooner or later tell you about the importance of being in the present moment. The whole “Mindfulness” movement takes meditation out of the sitting posture and into whatever it is you’re doing at any given moment. There are even affirmations that you can mentally repeat which tell you that being in the present, even while washing the dishes, can be an elevating experience. “Wake up!” the New Age teachers seem to be saying: The world is passing you by.
Easier said than done. Some people find their thoughts much more interesting than what is happening around them. I am not one of these people but I live with someone who is.
Yesterday, for example, we drove down to Burlington, Vermont, for a day of strolling and shopping. The route chosen was certainly not the fastest one, but we left on the early side and what was the rush? It had been months since I drove the quiet, empty roads of Northern Vermont and I like their smooth curviness and the new sights. Even though it took longer, I was surprised when we reached Burlington – the drive for once seemed quite short.
Once there, while my wife was shopping at a giftstore (she eventually bought a bright green wristwatch), I sat on a ski chairlift that had been placed as a seating spot in the outdoor pedestrian mall and relaxed my feet (the chair inclined back, allowing my legs to swing). Immediately I relaxed into the present moment, content to watch the passersby. I observed what I thought was an odd couple, she dark-skinned and pretty, him pale and awkward, strolling and lounging about. I witnessed a young woman methodically drying a bench from leftover rainwater and then sit down, soon to be accompanied by her two girlfriends carrying shopping bags.
I noticed some people trying to eat gargantuan ice cream cones (I was a bit grossed out). A woman stopped to feed her small overweight dog little treats and tried to interest him in a bowl of water, right in front of the store Naomi was shopping in. (I was also grossed out a bit at this unnecessary feeding.)
Speaking of my wife, here is someone who loves her thoughts, especially her plans. Being in the present, observing and watching the world around her, is not nearly as interesting as “The Plan”.
If ever she is in a down mood, which is rare, I know that I can spark her up with a suggestion of a future trip somewhere.
And, in fact, this happened while driving to our destination yesterday when the idea of visiting the coast of Maine this coming September, turned into a concrete plan to drive up the coast and eventually visit my cousin in Halifax. I love this idea but my wife really got into it.
I love how the idea evolves and grabs hold of her. She’ll discuss dates, how long we’ll spend in each town, who she knows has already gone where we’re thinking of going, what she’s already read in the newspaper’s Travel section even many months ago (which she cuts out and files away for future reference). Minutes can turn into hours doing this, and I am often content to follow her (somewhat intense) lead.
This tendency to love planning, and this fundamental innate difference between us, can be a good thing. For example, the fact that we haven’t yet sold our home and have yet to complete furnishing our new house, while a source of terrible frustration for a “planner”, will eventually result in a better home when we finally move in.
Naomi has never given up planning and re-planning how every aspect of the house will look, including the front and back yards. For an artist and a very visual person, it is difficult coming back down to earth at the end of such preparation. While I’m more inclined to “take things as they come” and decide in the moment what to do or if I like the look of something, my wife will tape out the floor where the furniture will eventually go and sketch and re-sketch the plan out on a quite-used-up sketchpad.
The present moment is a lot less interesting than the planning. When she finally sits herself down on the new sofa, in a home meticulously planned out, she will probably immediately dive deep into some new plan regarding an upcoming trip somewhere or a future exhibition of her remarkable sculptures and ceramic art.
Different minds, different ways of looking at the world.