It was sage advice from my cousin, newly returned from 3 months in Europe now almost 3 years ago. The 4 words came after a marked transformation from anxiety, stress and fear before travelling to a surrender to all that life was travelling. It was the motto I lived when it was my turn abroad; reminding myself just how incredibly lucky I was to be where I was, doing what I was doing. Yet it goes without saying that ‘live in the present’ is easier to do when the present consists of sun soaked days spent people watching in your favourite plaza, making eyes at the cute waiter and deciding which culinary delight to treat yourself to next. It’s easier when the present your living is the stuff made of dreams.
How do you ‘live in the present’ when your present consists of the common-place, often bordering on the banal? The sleep deprivation, the to-do lists, the fatigued sighs, the micro-sleeps, the sneaking suspicion that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when you’ve got a an essay due tomorrow, work the next day, 2 hours of transit before you and a week long forecast of rain.
Nostalgia is a tricky mistress. She leads you doe-eyed toward the instagramed memories and smiling, bronzed photos of you while dutifully chauffeuring you past the home-sickness, the idleness, the small pockets of doubt and relateable reality. She leads you to believe you will never be as happy as you were then. And that’s just not true.
Almost half a year back from The Best Year Ever (So Far) I’ve found my groove once again. Gone are the anxieties and aching feelings of being broken up with by the first foreign country I’d actually fallen for; replaced now with the post-break-up understanding that it was over, but I was better for it. People say you’re brave to travel, to go overseas but the real test of character is coming back to face the music. If you can deal with wherever you are, independent of location, you’re set for life.
To all of my 20-something friends still mourning the trip overseas at whom I’m forcefully dispensing this advice – take a breath, give it up, surrender to the ‘now’. How do you do that? Eat more cake. Meet a friend. Go to see a live band. Complain less. Consciously seek out what is awesome and right in your life right now, even if it’s just the fact that you are not homeless, friendless or alone. Maybe you’ve got it figured out, maybe you have no clue what you’re doing, maybe you’re making it all up as you go along. Which would be the majority of us, I’m putting up my hand here.
We have the strange and once-only privilege of being young (all ignorance, idealism, Gen Y narcissism and first world problems included). It’s a permission slip to dress inappropriately, mess up, borrow money from our parents, disappoint people, surprise everybody, make mistakes, break hearts, exploit the stereo-type of the broken hearted, ride the wave of fearlessness and naiveté of ideas untested by jading experience. The present doesn’t stop being glorious just because the travels have stopped, we’re getting jobs, finishing degrees or finding ourselves increasingly annoyed at the loud uniformed school students interrupting our public transport peace and quiet that reminds us we’re getting older. It doesn’t stop because we’re home. It becomes more real, our whole youth is a dream we haven’t woken up from yet, so close your eyes and enjoy the ride.
Live in the present.
Yes, that old chestnut.