I've been listening to a lot of Sigur Ros recently. If you haven't heard of them, they're pretty great. Their music sounds like a sweeping mountain range. And sometimes like an empty star-lit valley. And sometimes like the bottom of a deep warm pool. And sometimes like being inside a heart monitor.
Anyway, one reason I've been listening to them is that they're from Iceland, and that's one of the places we're going on our big trip. So listening to them is even better at the moment because it evokes in my mind images like this:
OK, so the point of this post isn't to skite about our awesome upcoming trip to Iceland (but come on, it's pretty freaking awesome right?). Instead I wanted to talk a bit about the future.
A few weeks ago Annamarie talked about the power (and the pain) of hope. I talked before that about the stress of planning. I think those two things summarize the way humans deal with the future - it's either a constant worry or a delicious (or maybe unbearable) anticipation. It's hard to find the middle ground.
And yet thinking about the future is so important. Many scientists argue that humans' ability to project out likely outcomes was an evolutionary super power. It's why I, at 178cm and 74kg of pasty whiteness, am a fucking apex predator. It is what allowed us to prepare for this trip in the first place. I think that is why so many people struggle with addiction to smartphones / social media - your phone is essentially a portal into the future, or at least into the stuff not happening right here. Our brains haven't evolved to catch up with the tech yet (or is the tech the next evolution in our brains - an external, self created Darwinian next step? OK, I'll stop now).
We are often told to "live in the present". Be mindful. Be here now. I think it's important to do that sometimes. I'm always amazed at the way Sam can spend 30 minutes getting dressed because he's invented a million silly games to play with his clothes. Cultivating that joy of living is a good thing, even if I'll never get back to preschooler levels of excitement over a bug. But you know, sometimes the present sucks. Sometimes the present is filled with pain and sadness and loss. And it's good to live with that too, I think - at least for a while. But for me there's a fine line between acknowledging and allowing my feelings, and getting stuck in them. At some point the present becomes a trap. If I don't think about the fact that we've got no food in the fridge, bad things will happen. If we don't plan and save for our child's education, we're doing him a disservice. Planning has it's place.
I guess this is where I (and maybe a lot of people) struggle. I worry a lot. I worry about big things, like whether Auckland property prices are going to crash and take down the value of our heavily mortgaged home. I worry about whether we're doing a good enough job with Sam, whether I'm teaching him the right life lessons, how what he sees me do influences him outside of what I tell him. And I worry about dumb stuff - keeping on top of the laundry, whether I replied to that email, general life admin crap. I don't want to worry. Worrying is basically just thinking about a problem you can't do anything about. It's the definition of a wasted emotion. I know this. But I still worry. And I worry about what all the worrying is doing to me.
So clearly I don't have any perfect solutions. But I have some thoughts, some things I'm trying.
I keep a to do list. Just the one, but it's stored on an app and I can access it from anywhere. There are lots of options, but I use Toodledo which I find simple and quick to add something. That's important to me, because the point of my to do list is that it's a big box for me to throw in all my worry. If it's in there, I know it will get done at some point, and I can stop thinking about it when I'm playing with my child, or enjoying a nice walk. This doesn't always work, but it's more effective than churning the thing over in your mind a million times.
Of course having a to do list creates its own problems, because now you're worried about the list itself. Sometimes I'll find myself endlessly prioritising and re-prioritising the list, shuffling tasks around instead of actually doing any of them. Sometimes I end up checking the list every 5 minutes just to make sure I haven't missed anything.
But I'm getting better at managing that. These days I'll try only look at the list if I am actually in a position to do a task. That means I need at least 5 minutes of clear time. So not at dinner, not during bathtime, not when I'm spending time with Annamarie. Speaking of my darling wife, the list used to piss her off something chronic. She would make sarcastic remarks and tell me I was tied to my phone. she thought I was being anal retentive. She was probably right. But now she gets it. I won't say she loves it, but she knows that if she wants something done around the house, she needs to see me add it to the list, or it won't get done. And I've learned not to overcommit myself, so I have time to do all the stuff that needs doing, and to spend unstructured time with the family, without feeling the need to check my phone every 5 minutes.
I traveled to Australia recently and my mobile phone roaming didn't turn on properly, so I had no internet access except from the hotel WiFi, and no way to call or text the other people I was travelling with. That was an interesting experience. It was freeing in some ways and allowed me to "live in the present". There was no point in checking my phone because it had nothing on it. I enjoyed wandering city streets looking up and around, noticing subtle differences from the way things are at home.
At the same time it forced me to plan more. I was travelling with a group, and I couldn't just text them to co-ordinate where I needed to be and when. Instead we had to plan locations (usually a pub) and meeting times in advance, and then actually be there on time. If I wanted to go somewhere, I couldn't just load up Google Maps - I'd have to check at the hotel and then either download the map to my phone, or just try to remember it in my head. So I'd need to plan out travel times, know what time it was and how far until my next destination. In some ways lack of technology made me less present and more concerned with the future.
I think that's the battle, and in today's sense-assualting world it is a fight. Here vs there. Now vs later. Schedule time to be unscheduled. Do some things, but try to be some one. Achievement vs appreciation. The way our brains work mean the war is never over, but I guess the key is to make sure you recognise that you are in one. You can make a plan of attack, but then you have to adapt to the enemy and the terrain. The point is we are in charge, so let's act like it.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.