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Lockdown lessons: getting better at living in the moment

I am a person who holds onto things; past hurts, missed opportunities, sentimental mementos, failed friendships, lost loves… I cling onto all of these as if my current existence depends on remembering all my past experiences. But it has got to the point where, rather than using these memories as learning curves, they have become emotional baggage that does nothing but weigh me down. I replay scenarios, overthink conversations, painstakingly construct a parallel “what if” universe – and to what end?

Lockdown 3.0 has given me even more time to work on myself (as if lockdown 1.0 wasn’t enough) and, as a result, it allowed me to realise that this pathological attachment to the past was hindering my personal growth. My mind was in a stagnant short circuit, looping on repeat over things that didn’t really matter anymore. Because, let’s be honest, reflecting on the good old days when I got snaked out by a friend at school isn’t exactly helpful. The “zen” me, with a little help from my friend hindsight, is telling myself that they had their own issues, and it was just their futile attempt to gain some control in this crazy world.

And so, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the past few weeks letting go of my hurt, my bitterness, my nostalgia, my failures, my regrets, and everything else that has accumulated in my mind. In a way, I’ve Marie Kondo-ed my brain; and just as her famous decluttering method reportedly changes peoples’ lives, so has this for me. I no longer waste my spare hours mulling over the minutiae of my past and this has allowed me to make time to focus on the present.

Yes, living in the midst of a global pandemic isn’t necessarily conducive to the most exciting activities, but the chaos outside has made me grateful for the little oasis of calm I have found inside of me. My gratitude journal is my safe space, and in it I document the tiniest sources of happiness that the present has given me; a smile from a stranger, a ray of sunshine, a postcard from a friend, waking up in a good mood…it can be anything and nothing; what’s important is the act of writing them down and reminding myself that I have a lot to be thankful for.

Sometimes, I do find myself going the other way; journaling about my future plans and dreams, creating a step-by-step strategy to achieve them, imagining where I will be in 5 years’ time, and so on. And I do think looking forward is more productive than looking backward, but not if it detracts from the casual magic of the present.

Don’t get me wrong, it is hard to strike that balance but choosing to live too far in either the future, the past, or even both, is only robbing you of enjoying today. Dreaming about our next adventure in a post-Covid world can make us forget that everyday is a tiny adventure in itself. We need to cherish the pockets of joy the present gives to us.

Because, however clichéd it may sound, the present is a gift. This lockdown has reminded me that what will be, will be, and there are greater forces at work which I simply cannot control. Perhaps that sounds scary to you, but I find comfort in the realisation that, no matter my best intentions, there is always a bigger picture. Despite the pain of yesterday and the mystery of tomorrow, I will always have today to smile, to make others smile, and to find happiness in the most unexpected of places.

Image: Clay Banks via Unsplash