Melissa Kite

Real Life | 19 July 2008

Living in the now

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Have you ever attempted to open the front door to your house by pointing your car key at it? Please say you have. I did it twice this week and what is worse it took me ages to work out why the door was not opening, despite frantic clicking of the Peugeot key in the direction of the Yale lock. I shudder to think that a passing neighbour might have seen me.

The reason for my befuddlement, it turns out, is that whatever I happen to be doing, I am not there as I’m doing it. This is all to do with something fantastically new-fangled called ‘being present’. I hadn’t spotted it myself — as I refuse on principle to read books called The Power of Now. But a couple of friends have been instrumental in diagnosing the problem.

The first pulled me up sharp as I was sitting not listening to him tell me about something that happened to him at work that day. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. I assured him that I was sitting right opposite him. ‘No, you’re not. You’re somewhere else.’

He was absolutely right. After a bit of exploration it transpired that I was in fact sitting in my car three days previously, trying to work out how to get my parking permit attached to the windscreen. I was reliving the awful moment when I peeled the permit away from the paper and stuck it to the sticky holder the wrong way.

The giveaway was when my friend told a joke and instead of laughing I winced because I had just got to the bit where I tried to pull the permit back off the sticky holder and ripped it in the process.

‘Can’t you forget about the permit?’ he asked. Not really, I explained. It took three hours of negotiating town hall bureaucracy to obtain and cost me a staggering £130 because it is ‘emissions linked’. It is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with Britain today.

‘Aren’t you giving this parking permit way too much power?’ Again, I don’t think so. The Orwellian nightmare of obtaining it, matched with the Kafkaesque impossibility of peeling it from the paper in the correct way, demanded an extremely thorough response. I needed to obsess about this matter for many days, possibly weeks. And so the friend gave up talking to me and left me alone with the noise in my head.

It happened again with a girlfriend over lunch. ‘Where have you gone?’ she complained, referring to the glassy expression on my face as I stared into a plate of Spaghetti Bottarga.

This time I fessed up straight away. ‘I’m really sorry. Right now, I’m actually trying to convince the man in Office to exchange my Havaiana flip flops for the smaller size even though I’ve cut the labels off.’ This was not an easy thing for her to hear, but it was better to be honest.

I would like to ‘be in the moment’, to luxuriate in the power of Now, I really would. But modern life just isn’t stacked up to allow you to do that. The nature of our existence is designed to get us out of each moment and rapidly into the next one. We are by necessity always thinking about what we’re going to do next: It’s called forward planning and multi-tasking.

I will never forget a female MP breaking down and telling me tearfully as she slugged back a glass of white wine that she didn’t want any of it any more. Voice shaking, hair standing on end, eyes blotchy with tiredness, she told me that her dearest wish was as follows: ‘I want to sit in a chair.’ The complication was the simplicity of it. She didn’t want to sit and read, or sit and talk to her kids or sit and watch TV or sit and go through her emails while talking to someone on the phone. She just wanted to sit in a chair.

But if you think that’s easy, try it. Sit in a chair. I guarantee you won’t succeed because modern life has twisted you into a shape that won’t let you do that any more. It’s like wearing high-heeled shoes. Eventually your bones get stuck in the wrong shape. I tried it and it felt so weird I had to stop it after three seconds.

So, let’s bring it back to now. Where have I gone? I’ll tell you where I’ve gone. I’ve gone to a big red place in my brain where horrible things happen to people who issue parking permits that don’t peel off the paper properly. And for the foreseeable future, that’s where I’m staying. For some reason, I seem to be able to live in that particular moment quite happily.

Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.