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The power of (trying to comprehend) now
Thank you thank you thank you for your well wishes last week. It means a lot to me.
If you care to tell me what time is like for you right now, you can reply to this email in your inbox, or email me at email@example.com.
I’m about to throw a lot of questions your way, with very few answers.
Over the past year time has stretched and expanded, stood still, crawled and taunted me, and mercifully sped forward. One of the most important lessons I learned this year was “this too shall pass.” The sticky note I wrote that mantra on after reading When Things Fall Apart last summer still hangs from the shelf on my desk at the Tribeca WeWork office, which I may never visit again. The two weeks since I got laid off have passed quickly, and my initial low emotions about the situation have rebounded with haste. I’ve been away from New York City for a month already, and I’ll likely be away for a month more. I’ve seen countless tweets about how our perception of time is skewed at this time, from fast weeks but slow days, to constant confusion about what day of the week it even is.
I’ve read a bit about the physics of the universe, how time is a human construct and somewhere in the universe we are living at the same time as the dinosaurs, how if you could slice time like a loaf of bread, we’re all in the same slice, all experiencing the same “now.”
Can physics help explain how emotions seem to dictate my human understanding of time? How when something devastating happens it is all-consuming, but you can still logically understand that in the course of your life, you will look back on this crushing moment and consider it a passing blip? How you can know from experience that you will heal, but emotionally cannot picture that day ever coming?
In the rough last year, it often seemed that the depth of my emotional pain matched the length of the hours.
Jillian’s Theorem Of Time/Emotion Relativity:
Experience of Time = Level of Suffering + (Actual Length of an Hour x 3) \ (Physical Movement + Self-care + Therapy)
As I healed and rejoined the city’s natural currents, time seemed to go back to “normal.” Two weeks of dinners and bars and morning workouts and hours sitting at a desk and walking Prospect Park hurried by. My friend Sam visited New York in December, then suddenly two months later I was flying to see her in Atlanta. There is nothing I’ve been more grateful for than the passing of time, moving me swiftly away from the unbearable lows toward my emotional center.
I’m currently reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’m about a quarter into it—it’s a cerebral read, so I take it slow—but so far it teaches that you are not your thoughts, or your career, or your past. In fact, there is no past and there is no future. There is only now. Tolle writes that you should only use “clock time,” or practically managing day-to-day tasks like making a dentist appointment or leaving on time to commute to work, as you must to function in society. But as soon as we’re done with those tasks, we should immediately return to living in the now. And “psychological time,” identification with the past and projection into the future, should be rejected at all costs. Tolle writes:
“[The present moment] is as it is. Observe how the mind labels it and how this labeling process, this continuous sitting in judgment, creates pain and unhappiness. By watching the mechanics of the mind, you step out of its resistance patterns, and you can then allow the present moment to be. This will give you a taste of the state of inner freedom from external conditions, the state of true inner peace. Then see what happens, and take action if necessary or possible.”
I understand this concept in theory. But how does one live in the now while still loving and connecting with other people? Would a fully realized Buddhist, or one who has reached her higher self, never mourn? Would the loss of someone they love make them simply smile at having known that person, then instantly return to the now?
In Blue Nights, Joan Didion wrote, “Memories are what you no longer wish to remember.” I’ve always understood what she meant. Books like The Power of Now, which list the many ways we are slaves to our brains, make memory seem like an evolutionary flaw. Fight or flight responses exist to keep us alive, and our brains are trained to make us relive painful (physical or emotional) situations over and over, so we remember damn well not to make that mistake again—so we survive. But for our souls to survive, we must divorce ourselves from that habitual pattern; we have to override our deepest instincts.
Though I’ve tried to write the lessons I’ve learned carefully on my soul, I’m nowhere near my highest self. I’m still deeply tied to my own ego, the identities I’m attached to (writer, daughter, friend, feminist) and my hopes for the future. I feel that hope revives me. At the same time, I do believe in now. I know there is no guarantee that I’ll have a next moment, that any moment that is relatively comfortable is a good one, and that most of my “now” is wonderful.
Now I am eating lunch with my mom on a balcony in the sunshine. Now I am watching fluffy geese chicks stumble across the unused golf course. Now I am jogging and breathing deeply and smelling a bit of rain in the desert air. Now I am watching the sunset with a glass of wine in hand, Frank Ocean playing in the background. Now I am looking at my sister’s face on a video call. Now both of my parents are alive and healthy. Now I am healthy, and well-fed, and in a comfortable home.
Maybe 18 months ago, when I was serenely happy in my personal and professional life, I walked through the park while talking to a friend. “I feel like I’m in such a special time. I’m so happy. I recognize that this is one of the rare times in life I get to live without any grief.” Even then, I recognized my now. At that moment, I was free from the kind of drowning emotional pain I’ve experienced several times in my life, and will surely experience again. I described this philosophy as living between “grief pockets” to my mother the other day.
For the most part, you don’t get to choose when grief comes for you, or how often, or how long it stays with you. Plans will be ruined, people lost, mysterious global illnesses will arise to royally fuck up a year you had high hopes for. The lesson Tolle and Pema Chödrön and many others teach lies in understanding that, even deep in the heart of a numbing grief pocket, that is your now. To face it, radically accept it, and live in this moment as best you can—because there is no past and no future—is the only path you can choose to reduce your own suffering.
Tolle writes: “The present moment is all you ever have. There is never a time when your life is not ‘this moment.’ Is this not a fact?”
Right now, you are breathing. You are reading. You’re probably sitting comfortably. I won’t assume anything else about your now. But it’s here, and it’s all we have.
I got dumped in quarantine by John Paul Brammer at his advice newsletter, ¡Hola Papi! Grappling with loss, time, and impermanence.
I think we’re alone now. Welcome. By Glynnis MacNicol in the New York Times. A woman who’s been single and working from home for 15 years shares her isolation experience, and the surprising advantages she has.
Fran Lebowitz in never leaving New York by Michael Schulman in the New Yorker. Every line of this is pure gold.
How to use a bullet journal for better mental health by Rachel Wilkerson Miller and Anna Borges at Buzzfeed. A fantastic idea I really could have used in tough times—and hey, look, it’s a tough time again right now!
Questionable self-care advice
Support I got that you might need to hear
I enthusiastically endorse
This list of emergency funds for freelancers from Anna Codrea-Rado at her newsletter, The Professional Freelancer
This list of resources for media freelancers and those looking for work from Delia Cai at her newsletter, Deez Links
The Small Bow newsletter about substance abuse and recovery from A.J. Daulerio, former Gawker EIC. Daulerio writes essays on his own recovery as well as shares words and interviews from others, and the illustrations are drawn by another favorite newsletter writer, Edith Zimmerman. I really enjoy it, and a recent issue on taking bipolar meds was excellent, and taught me the definition of euthymia: a normal, tranquil mental state or mood, specifically for those with bipolar disorder. Subscribe here.
These children singing the Legally Blonde musical:
This cheered me up
Getting all dolled up in this exquisite Mara Hoffman dress to wander around for a birthday photo shoot with my mom.
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