I have always thought it was the best way to live: one day at a time, moment by moment. But somehow, not for me. Maybe it has something to do with my job. Journalism feeds the avatars that feed anxiety.
In journalism, sometimes, you have to live not one day, but two or even three, at a time, in a chaotic hyperloop of events.
The “end” of one news cycle is the beginning of another. And another, and another. The cycles blur and overlap in endless stream.
It can sometimes be gratifying, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes depressing not just to follow, but also to be in on the inside track of what is going on. But minding other people’s business is hardly recommended for a stress-free life.
Being “on top” of the news is enemy to normal adrenalineflow.
I strive to live in the present. That’s what the sages recommend and it’s also there in some of the best books on self-help and wellbeing.
In Noah Elkrief’s book, “A guide to the present moment,”for example, we are told that inherent peace can be experienced through a five-step process that starts from dealing with fear of the future to how to tackle self-doubt and emotional storms.
Whatever Elkrief and the sages might say, I’m often tempted to think that this business of living in the present is a mirage, something in the province of mystics or monasterial life.
Not that I don’t try. If you live in a country where you have to provide your own electricity, water, private security and pave the road to your house, a literary advisory – spiritual or temporal – can hardly cover what it means to strive for living in the moment.
You want to live for the moment, of course. It’s a new day and you are determined to wipe clean your worry slate and begin on a new footing of present living. But there’s no electricity and no petrol in your generator.
You’ve been managing to get by for the last few days of epileptic power supply but it’s getting to you now because there’s only so much you can do on self-generated power supply.
The provisions in the refrigerator are going bad and if the situation continues for another day or two you may lose everything. You still maintain your cool and try to find a way to figure this out because you’re determined to live in the present. Are you going to blank it out or just pray that somehow power is restored and your provisions spared?
There’s no guarantee when the public power supply would be restored so you take a jerrycan and decide todrive to a nearby petrol station to buy some more petrolfor your generator – when there’s no queue. On your way back from the petrol station you run into a police checkpoint and the cops ask you to pull up.
You’re determined to live in the moment and you obey without a fuss.
By the time the police are through you have been given an option of either giving up your jerrycan with the petrol because it is not legal to convey petrol in a jerrycan or pay a bribe if you want to go home with your petrol.
Remember this is one day you have decided to live in the moment. You weigh the options and since nice words will not redeem your petrol and the police insist that what they’re demanding is not bribe but a token to maintain their patrol van, you tip your way through and just get on with it.
But how can you carry on like this, paying toll as you goat legal and illegal checkpoints. You want to live in the present but there’s hardly anything that can be done, one moment at a time, stress-free.
Not even the unenviable decision to buy petrol in the most awkward of circumstances.
Rent is paid one or two years in advance. Regulators raise fees for services not provided without notice. School fees are paid in full, without option of instalment payment plan.
Hospital bills are collected first and doctors demand payment receipts before they will attend to dying patients. Workers demand salary advance; that is an advance onyet-to-be-done future work to solve today’s pressing problems. Mastering the small print in a simple contract is hardly a guarantee that you will not face nasty surprises down the road. Basic transactions are conducted either with advance payment of over 50 percent or full cash payment.
All of tomorrow’s problems are imported for full cash payment today and the mobile devices that we all carry around ensure that we feel the full weight of the pressure as it mounts.
I thought it was my job – the sheer drudgery of pursuingheadlines and deadlines – that compounds the misery of living in the present.
I’ve also blamed the pace of post-modern society, especially how our lives have been remarkably impacted by the pressure brought on by interconnectedness and theimmediacy of technology.
It’s been suggested – and I think it’s true – that awareness of personal responsibility and choice can, sometimes, help to push back pressures from the outside. Creating your own space is hard, but it’s a choice you must make for your sanity.
You decide when to answer that call or when to make it; when to switch on the phone, which social networks to join, when and what to say. You must choose when to accept an invitation and when to say no to requests, any kind of requests.
The social fabric has also been impacted. My mother used to say that in those days, people prayed that things should not be hard for them and hard for their helper at the same time. These days, both the one needing help, the one faking the need of help, and the potential helper are squeezed.
It’s all of that and more. I think that at the heart of why it’s increasingly difficult to live in the present, to take one day at time, is the fact that trust is broken. Suspicion, doubt and anxiety have become the currency of survival.
Does that nullify the wisdom of the sages or the admonition of
self-help experts? Not one bit. Through it all, I’ve found as I stumble through the daily practice of living in the moment and picking myself up as often as I fall, that worry does not change anything.
Living in the present does not mean the absence of worry, though. It’s the presence of mind to understand that it’s only in the present that we can muster the power to make tomorrow better.
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network
(This article was first published in The Interview magazine in May 2018)