What My 30s Have Taught Me: The Magic of Presence

It seems like yesterday that I turned 30. I celebrated that birthday alone, but I wasn't lonely. I took myself out for lunch after work and ordered a piece of cake. “It's my birthday”, I said, smiling at the woman who owned the small vegan cafĂ©. She sang happy birthday as she brought that unforgettable mango cake. “I've cut you a big piece”. She was smiling too.

I think back on that moment now that I'm slightly closer to the threshold of 40 than the threshold of 30. I remember how happy I was to start this decade. I've met many people in their late 20s who were horrified at the idea of turning 30, but I embraced that age feeling the shift that it sparked within me. My 20s were learning years, healing years. My 20s were full of mistakes and lessons. And even though I still make mistakes and hold similar fears, my third decade feels like a gift.

In the last months, I've had a lot of time and mental space to ask myself why that is. As autumn progressed, I felt my energy synchronise with the energy of nature. I watched the trees and bushes slowly undress, shedding what needed to be shed in preparation for winter. I felt I, too, was shedding things I no longer wanted or needed. And when we shed that which we no longer need, we find the simple truth. Simple being the keyword here.

The magic of this decade, for me, lies in my discovery of contentment and the value of the present moment. We're taught to live for the future, to get out of our comfort zone and fight, to seek and achieve success (whatever that means), to check all the boxes in a made-up checklist that will determine whether our life had meaning or not. In brief, we are taught to want more.

Well, I tried to play by those rules, and the whole time I was trying, something felt off, as if I was looking for something in all the wrong places. After a while, I came to a conclusion that seemed counter-intuitive but felt right: I don't want to want more, I want to want less.

I've spent a significant part of autumn and winter in contemplation, mindful of the smaller moments in life, the seemingly insignificant daily tasks. I've enjoyed the beauty of those small moments and learned to appreciate them as much as the big ones. Underneath all our personal desires and dreams, being present is the ultimate goal as human beings, and that can be done at any moment. When in doubt, take a deep breath. Look at a bird, a flower, a cloud. Observe your hands. Touch something.

This sense of contentment somehow feels more powerful than the highlights of my most treasured memories. It's almost like a secret you can only discover when you're very still. I believe it's what Eckhart Tolle talks about when he speaks of presence. When you get these glimpses of presence, of being right here and now without being controlled by your thoughts, everything seems more alive. It's as if you could see through a veil that you weren't aware was there before. And suddenly, a sort of joy is born in your chest. A joy that is similar to the joy felt during those highlighted memories, but you know it's not coming from anything external. It's coming from the inside, and it's simply the joy of being alive.

It's common for us to only feel alive when we're doing something exciting or extremely enjoyable. When we're stuck in our routines, joy is something reserved for special occasions, so we end up living for those moments. We sleepwalk through the routine days, the veil suspended before our eyes until, now and then, it becomes see-through for a few seconds, right before it turns thick again, the moment forgotten. But at that moment, we savour this sense of presence, feeling content, for there is no past and future, no desires and fears, no us and them. 

I find poetry is more capable of expressing these things than anything else, so here's a poem I wrote inspired by these moments of presence. I hope we'll all find more and more glimpses of it until the mind stops taking over. Until we realise life is, and we are

I find peace as I rake the cut grass,
as I hang freshly washed clothes on the line,
as I fold them once dry.

I find peace as my feet sink in the sand,
as seagulls bathe next to me on the shore,
as you hold my hand in silence.

I find peace in the open sky, the open fields,
my open heart, beating in unison with the currents.

There is, after all, peace to be found in this turbulent world
patiently waiting for our thoughts to untangle.

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