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Sunday 15 September 2019
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A fundamental life lesson

Living in the 'now'

Three weeks ago my birthday coincided with my family's annual chow competition, which, for the past six years has always been held on the first Sunday in August. Everything was well-planned out for an enjoyable day with food, family, chow and lots of space for our many, many children to play in the sun.

And then the dark clouds that had been threatening to suck the joy out of the day broke and the rains came, complete with lightning, thunder and flooding. I was sorely disappointed, as this was the first time the event had ever seen more than a drizzle, until I observed something I hadn't seen in a very long time — our many, many children had put away their devices, vacated their spots under the tent and raced out into the rain. Some, stripped down to their underwear, others still fully clothed, engaged in games of football, cricket, catch, or just ran around in the unrelenting downpour.

Eventually, they found themselves splashing around in a shallow pool of murky water that had gathered at one corner of the recreation ground that, at first glance to me, looked like ring worm and sundry other skin diseases. They knew the Savlon and Dettol soakings awaited them when they got home, but they decided to live in the "now."

I too find that I, creeping closer to 50, which I'm told is the new 30, seem to be "living my best life," to quote the young people. I'm not happy all the time and the issues that come with adulting are no fewer, but my reaction to them makes all the difference to me and my son. Why to him? Well, when I'm happy, he is a happier child because, "Mummy is more fun these days."

My appreciation of the "now" has resulted in my not waiting for life to become "perfect" for me to be happy. Waiting to get finances in order, the ideal home décor, the dream car, the to-die-for vacation, the wardrobe that will be the envy of friends, and all the other things on the list can really put a damper on living when all your time and efforts go into making them a reality. And nothing is wrong with wanting to achieve and plan for the future, but, because there are certain things that are out of your control, it makes so much sense to appreciate the people and things you have now.

My OCD side is learning that leaving the dirty dishes in the sink for a couple of hours while I play a game with my son, won't cause an infestation of roaches that will result in a national outbreak of typhoid fever, requiring every medical practitioner in the country to report for duty immediately. Losing an hour of much-needed sleep is worth it when he jumps into bed with me and asks, "So what do you want to talk about tonight?" Nor will the $450 I will occasionally spend to buy us day passes to a beach resort cause him to have to miss out on enrolling at the university he wants to attend when the time comes because I can't afford it.

I remember, not so long ago, when I used to look forward to my vacation time from work in order to "live," whether at home or travelling abroad.

"But you don't need to be on vacation to free your mind of its habitual caught-in-responsibility, self-absorbed, stress-filled state. What you do need is the mental habit of paying attention, carefully and completely, to what's happening right now. Experiencing the present moment without reminiscences, comparisons, evaluations, and judgements, you can't be disappointed. Without the mind loop that says 'I didn't like this last time' or 'He looks like my brother, who ignores me' or 'This will probably be boring,' every moment is interesting. When you're completely absorbed in right now, you forget to worry. Your mind is free — free to be curious, to be amazed (life is quite amazing), to enjoy, to love," writer Sylvia Boorstein said in an article on oprah.com. "...On your next coffee break—really take a break and just have coffee. That's all. Don't phone. Don't e-mail. Don't visit anyone. Just taste the coffee. Look around. See your surroundings as if for the first time," she advised, and I can totally see where she is going with this.

Life can be a never-ending whirlwind, especially when you are a parent. I've had days when one just blended into the other, and sometimes I still do because on some days keeping up with my son's social, academic and extracurricular calenders along with my other responsibilities won't allow me to make distinctions between when a day begins and ends.

I wish I had the maturity and good sense to do this many years ago, but I'm learning how to stop and smell the roses, cinnabuns, coffee, tea and wine. I'm learning that while he is at tennis practice I don't have to sit and look at his every move because I'm not his coach. For the two hours he's on the court I can sit and get lost in a good book, catch up with friends, go shopping (window or otherwise), or whatever. I'm learning that work doesn't always have to be a drag, and that the manner in which I interact with my co-workers can add or take away from the experience. I'm learning that time alone can be priceless. I'm learning how important it is to teach my son how to live every day in the "now." I am learning...

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