abstract gold and grey painting
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Get Out of the Moment


Everything you read these days seems to extol the virtues of being “in the present moment”.

I’m not questioning the value of being attentive, appreciative and aware. In fact, a few weeks ago, I suggested some ways to use art-making to deepen your appreciation for the beauty and wonder in your everyday routine and environment.

And of course, returning to the present moment can be a good way to disengage from worrying obsessively over possible disasters that you can’t prevent, or regretting something you can no longer mend.

But it drives me up the wall when I see articles with titles like “15 Things You Should Do . . . ” or “9 Easy Ways to . . . ” tossing around phrases like “all we have is this moment” and “live in the present” as though it’s somehow wrong to think of past or future or anything that’s not right in front of you this moment. As though ignoring everything but the here-and-now is a magic pill for happiness.

I think the truth is a lot more nuanced than that. (So, by the way, does the Dalai Lama.)

But my principle objection to admonishments to always “be in the moment” is not philosophical, it’s practical. Some of the finest things in life deliberately take us out of the here-and-now. I think we should both celebrate that and use it to live more fully.

moon and breaking wave
“No ocean wave ever really looked like this, but it captures the memory of seeing moonlight glimmering through a breaking wave—a wonderful memory that makes my heart feel full of wonder every time I think of it.

Art, music, literature, film . . . these are quintessentially human activities. And they nearly always involve transcending the here-and-now.

We love stories of long ago and far away and what-could-be.  Imagination is the wellspring of much joy, excitement and wonder. Our ability to imagine what-might-be drives both scientific and technological developments, and cultural change.

On a more personal note, how much of the pleasure of gatherings of families and friends is reminiscing about the past—finding the humor in things that might not have been all that funny at the time, keeping the memory of loved ones now gone or far away, imagining the future of the brand-new granddaughter or the college-bound nephew?

sketch of tent on rainy cold day
The main reason I keep travel sketchbooks is that looking at my sketches takes me right back to the place I was visiting—weather, people, food—even the discomforts. It’s funny now. 🙂

While the performance may happen in the moment, the book may be what I am reading right now, and the people I’m laughing with are right here, all of these activities are inextricably linked to memory and imagination, past and future.

Our creativity itself is inextricably linked with not-here-and-now.

This was brought home powerfully during the doodle challenge when we worked on prompts such as “doodle a texture that fascinated you as a child” or “doodle something from a dream (or daydream)”.

sketch of young girl
A mysterious dream-girl. In the dream, she was both a real person and a painting in a museum. The person lived on in the painting, the painting breathed and moved. Fascinating.

Not only was the work powerful and moving, but we doodlers were more deeply engaged.  Stories and strong emotions emerged. Loved ones and special places were invoked.

Sometimes people feel called to “make art” or “be creative” but they’re not really sure what it is they should make. When the time comes to put pencil or brush to paper, they’re stuck.

The next time you’re stuck like that, try making art that connects to the past, the future and the what-might-be:

  • your earliest childhood memory
  • a favorite toy or possession from childhood or some other time in your past
  • someone whose voice you’d love to hear right now
  • a wonderful (or terrible!) moment on a trip or vacation
  • a place you’ve always dreamed of visiting
  • a place you would live if you could just wave a magic wand and be there
  • something you imagine (or know) your great-grandmother might have cherished
  • something you imagine your great-granddaughter might cherish (and perhaps the story she will have heard about it)
  • a potent dream image
  • an imagined person who, if you met them, would change your life completely
  • what a piece of music would look like if you could see it
  • what it might really feel like to be a tree, or an elephant, or an ant

You get the idea. Get out of the present moment. On purpose.

Where/when would you rather be?

abstract gold and grey painting
The sound of a gong breaking the silence.

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