Every year I make a list of resolutions- the usual crap about losing weight, doing more exercise, writing a novel rather than watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Nothing sticks. Everyone knows that January is the worst time to renounce your bad self. It's much better instead to make small incremental changes (allowing yourself half an hour of reality TV and using the other half to write the first paragraph of your novel) and probably starting some time in March. Hopefully you'll change more radically with these very gradual shifts and corrections.
However there is one thing I want to implement this year. I want to spend more time IN THE PRESENT. I'm getting tired of replaying all the embarrassing events that have ever happened in my life (and there have been many) and fretting about how embarrassing/sad/decrepit the future is going to be. I'm tired of listening to the crazy person in my head.
Over the past couple of years 'mindfulness' has become a huge phenomenon and dozens of books have come out lauding the benefits of living in the moment and trying to stop the continual rotation of negative thoughts. It also feels different to a lot of the other self-help malarkey out there.
I have to admit to being an expert when it comes to the self-help genre. I spent much of my twenties and thirties reading books like 'Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway' and 'The Secret' - no doubt missed the majority of fun, life changing events because I was too busy reading about ways to have fun, life changing events.
When I look back, my peak self-help book reading period was when I was twenty two. At that time I was going out every night, had zero responsibilities, was living in Amsterdam and in a successful band ( we weren't U2 or anything but we had a couple of minor hits). Why did I need the self-help stuff? Well the issue then (and now) was I could never appreciate the present. I wanted to be in a more successful band, live in New York and be the female Bono (but taller and less stocky) . What I didn't realise is that the female Bono doesn't read self- help books. She doesn't read them because she's too busy throwing impressive shapes on the dance floor and crafting genius songs.
And many of these self- help books make it harder to focus on the present. Instead it's all about some perfect future - once you get the right thought process lined up- once you say ten affirmations every morning - once you write all your hopes down and bury them in a cigar box in the garden- only then can life really start.
Thought patterns are tough to change. If you've always been the kind of person who notices dog shit on the street rather than the piercing blue of the sky then that's probably not going to change. And I'm the dog shit person.
I have good and bad days but even as a child I'd often replay horrible images in my mind. I once had a giant ball of gristle roll out of a piece of bacon quiche I was munching on. And this ball of gristle is like a metaphor for how I constantly mull over all the bad stuff. Even now if I'm having a really great time, laughing my head off with a friend, this ball of gristle bobs up in my mind. The ball takes me on a terrible journey to the pig that it came from, the unhappy life it had, how that life was cut short, the inside of an abattoir, what it must be like to be electrocuted upside down...it's dark, very dark.
There's many times I wish I'd never ordered quiche at school that day.
I like the idea of mindfulness because it's something you can start doing right away. You don't need to read a book. And you don't have to practice any crazy rituals. In fact if you don't like the word mindfulness then just think of it as taking a deep breath, looking around you, then breathing out again. Pat the cat on the head and study her properly- notice how she's getting grey, straggly hair growing out of her chin. Don't let this thought take you to how close your cat is to dropping down dead. Try to go back to breathing again. And don't think about how grey hair is also growing out of your own chin and is this normal for a forty- something woman? What the heck does it mean this hair? Is it the menopause already? Breathe.
It's the opposite of seizing the moment - instead you're letting the moment pass without analysing or thinking too much. And if your own personal 'ball of gristle' pops up...focus on breathing again. Feel your body rather than letting the crazy sadist in your head draw attention to the fact that you once told a guy you loved him and he gave you ten quid to get a taxi home. Or the fact that since having a baby your stomach has the texture of a deflated balloon. Or that you'll never write a novel and will always be a little too interested in The Kardashians.
It sounds cheesy but it's the only resolution I'll be trying to keep this year.