Children and the power of now

Living every momentI often receive messages like these: “Let me know the next time you are in town. We must meet.”

Or, “Sorry, I couldn’t make it to your reading this time. When are you coming this side next?”

And I wonder why this time is never good enough.

When I ended my teacher innings and moved back to my city, they asked me, “What next?”

“I don’t know, I am still savoring my present,” I said.

It wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They wanted me to be reflective, to tell them how it was, whether it added value, where do I go from here — stuff that adults normally ask you. But I had learned something that I was finally putting to practice. To live in the now. I mostly learned it from Re, but also from the many students I was teacher to this year.

The trouble with adults is that they either live in the past or the future. Children live in the moment. And the twain seldom meet. In the past year, I have met several parents and I have also witnessed several bankruptcies in communication between parents and children. The reason is the same. The child says “I did….” and the parent says,” You should have done…”

Ditto with relationships that fall apart and degenerate. When something isn’t working, we seldom say, “It isn’t working.” Instead we say, “May be if you did….. it would have worked.” Or, “I wish you were more….”

So when you look at a sunset, it’s your child who is actually enjoying the sunset. Your partner is trying to take a picture (or worse, write a tweet) and you are bemoaning the fact that he is not enjoying the sunset, so you don’t enjoy it either.

Compared to adults, children cannot extrapolate themselves temporarily into the future. This is their greatest asset. It allows them to fully enjoy the present. That is why children usually look happy while adults are found saying that they would have been happier if…..

Even in the ‘alternative’ school where I taught for a year, I always saw happy children and grumpy adults.

I guess it’s because children don’t yet have the baggage of memory. It helps them see things as they are and not what they should have been or could be.

Re moves freely and fluidly, skipping on sidewalks, running to swings, bending over backwards, doing endless cartwheels and pirouettes. I, on the other hand, have become rigid. I was once like him; I wasn’t afraid to dance, pirouette, jump into the water, fall over, or roll in mud, but now I am.

One of the greatest gifts a child can ever give you is the present tense. As an English teacher this past year, I have often done a lot of transformation of the tenses with the kids and I found that even the worksheet and grammar gurus are either basking in the past or the future and showing us how to perfect it. I did notice that the present tense is marginalized even there. It was telling, I thought.

There was a child who loved to work with his hands. His parents want him to be better-groomed, go to IIT some day, develop more social skills. One day, they told him over the phone that he was going to a big school. His dorm mates told me he was crying all night. He didn’t want to go. The day he left, I asked him if he was happy. He said. “I want to make my parents happy.” I could see the child in him interrupted already. He had already moved from the present into the future.

Strange as it may seem, it is harder to not be in the present moment than it is to be in the present moment. The present is our natural state. But we have spent a lifetime learning to sublimate our soul, living in our heads, and disconnected from our here and now. Obsessing about the past and future has become our natural way of living. Our need to be intelligent and rational, to plan our life has taken over our hearts completely.

If we allow children to be their true self, they will show us the way. They will guide us back to who we are. We just need to be open to their world, and stop trying to make it our own. By observing them, listening to them, and staying curious, we have some chance of redeeming ourselves.

The last time someone asked me about the next time I would be around in their city, I gently reminded them that ‘next’ is future tense. And I have decided to live in the now. Because life doesn’t always give you too many second chances. I am not an expert in the future, but I can do the present well. And that’s enough for me.

(The above post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 13th April, 2015)