Staying Present

Tate Modern // London, England. Photo by: Julia Stacy

Tate Modern // London, England. Photo by: Julia Stacy

At least once a day, I think about being somewhere that I’m not. Sometimes it’s a result of my propensity to daydream, my ever-expanding curiosity about the places I haven’t seen, or reading travel-related articles (or a combination of all three). But most of the time, when my thoughts slip to montages of myself sporting a loose top bun and suede ankle boots on the streets of New York or buying onions and tortillas at an outdoor market in Mexico or saying “Tak!” as I grab my tea to go in Copenhagen, it’s Instagram-induced.

I formed the dangerous habit of waking and scrolling this past year because I thought that the LCD display from my phone would make me more alert at six in the morning. It was the lazy, sleepy girl’s alternative to a cold shower and a cup of black coffee.

But not only does staring at Instagram in the first thirty seconds after my alarm rings while I’m still under the sheets succeed in keeping me in my half-awake state, it has the added effect of making me wish I was somewhere else, making me think that whatever grass I’ve got isn’t green enough for the day.

Looking at pictures that people post (myself included) that tend to highlight the best aspects of our lives is unhealthy when done in excess. The fear of missing out (coined FOMO) that consumes us when we see a photo of our girlfriends at Taco Tuesday or our cousin hugging a monkey in Thailand may feel like a real and painful condition, but it’s nothing but an initial spark of curiosity that grows bigger when we add our jealousy to it. Believing that there’s always a better place to be and a better view to take in is dangerous. It doesn’t move us forward swiftly in a positive direction; it keeps us blind to the beauty and good inherent in wherever we might be at the moment.

We are squandering every moment’s potential for discovery and happiness if we live constantly outside of them. I used to spend my walks between classes in Paris thinking about what it would be like to learn Greek and live in a white stucco shack with blue shutters on Santorini (inspired by Lena’s adventures in Oia from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants then reaffirmed by my own visit there). Maybe it’s the former actress in me, but I used to imagine entire conversations I would have with storeowners and picture exactly what I would wear (white linen pants and breezy backless tops) and see (blankets of blue ocean and woven fuchsia rugs drying on clotheslines) as I walked salty and sun-drowsy from Black Sand Beach to pick up olives and feta for dinner.

I am a fervent believer in the power and utility of daydreaming and visualization (a subject which I’ll write about at some point), but only when it doesn’t detract from the present moment or come attached with envy.

I look back and laugh at my spoiled twenty-year-old self who sat with a journal and a pain au chocolat in Jardin du Luxembourg and thought about Greece. I recognized the garden’s loveliness on a visual level, but my mind was not often in tune with my surroundings. The French mother pushing her baby in a stroller, the teen couple laying on a bench and kissing each other’s necks and lips, the spectrum of gold and orange that colored the fallen leaves, the old men wearing berets and playing pétanque on the dirt—I noticed it all but I didn’t absorb it.

I’m learning now that we can usually attribute our dissatisfaction in any given moment to not being present wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, and whomever we’re with. Staying outside the moment—whether that means checking emails during lunch with a friend, planning in your head what you want to say to your mom rather than listening to her, or complaining about missing the beach when you’re snowboarding in the mountains—is a surefire way to lower your capacity for contentedness.

Put down your social media tools every once in a while, avoid the urge to draw comparison to the past, and let go of expectations for the future. Learn to live fully wherever you are.