Just one week ago I stood for many hours in many lines at the Louvre, the catacombs and twice at Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. There were virtually no lines at the D’Orsay. I believe this may be because the D’Orsay has banned the use of the ‘Selfie Stick’.
During my time in Paris specifically, I witnessed more people take more pictures of themselves in front of things- statues, building, paintings, places, facing away from the art, the architecture, away from the awe-inspiring beauty of the thing they came to see.
Approaching the Eiffel Tower there were hundreds of men walking around with selfie sticks branching out from their bags like reckless metal trees, offering them,
“FOR FREEE FOR FREEE- if you buy a plastic Eiffel Tower from me!”
Our dinner on the 58th floor of the tower had a beautiful view and the food was lovely and the conversation was inspired, until a massive camera invaded our space and a photographer started motioning for us to configure ourselves into contrived poses reminiscent of high school yearbooks.
At the risk of being rude, I said NO. Please, NO. The photographer didn’t know what to do and was clearly insulted and for that I am sorry. However, my desire to remain present in my experience with my friends bears equal weight. I realize this may seem strange and counterintuitive to tourist culture at large….and so it is.
At the Louvre I couldn’t get closer than 50 feet to the Mona Lisa, the Venus and Winged Victory on account of the throngs of people turned AWAY from the painting, taking selfies.
Now, to be clear, myself, my daughter and my friends all consider ourselves relatively skilled photographers, and we too walked around with our cameras and extras lenses and filters….for the express purpose of taking a few thousand photos while on vacation. That said, I observed that there were two kinds of picture taking happening, everywhere we went. There were those with the sticks taking pics to show they were there and then the photographs crafted from thoughtful observation that worked to define some fine inspiring detail of a stone wing, the chiaroscuro light in an eye, an expressive drape of fabric dripping from the fingertips of a hopeful angel.
These were moments of feeling truly present and truly appreciative of the time and delicacy of touch and frustration and focus and joy that configured into this ...thing...that I behold and breathe in... and work to wrap my eyes around.
At one point, my friend and I were both quietly working closely on capturing some distinct moments of an exquisite marble sculpture...when a young woman thrust her iphone right between us, to take a picture. We stepped off, offended from the invasion of space. She ran off giggling. Giggling.
While I found the selfie obsession disturbing, like thousands of Narcissi roaming around with mirrors in front of their faces, no selfie was more unsettling than the selfie before the bones of the Catacombs. I have nothing more to say about that.
You all know how I feel about Florence. She is, in my mind, the consummate artist. And you may have heard me talk about how in her concerts, she stops for a certain song and asks, in her earnest and unapologetic authenticity for us to LOOK UP, LOOK UP, to put our phones away and 'be here, with me now'. It is the same moment, sitting with my daughter on date night checking ‘one last email’. She said, "MOM, please, it’s date night." And she reached over the table and gently pressed my phone down. Of course I did. And I am grateful that she spoke up. It means she knows she matters.
Some of my favorite times with her are our spontaneous long walks. We may be out and about on a Sunday...and we may be waiting for a bus...and we just start walking instead. From the 125th street Metro North, through Harlem, through the changes in architecture and the energy of people, through Columbia University to the UWS…..From the lower east to chinatown to wall street...and together we observe and talk and the phones are dead and we are alive, together.
This is the time when she tells me things. This is time that shapes the future and seals the foundation of her character.
Now, Ireland was entirely phone free. (Oh wait, there was that group that held us up because they were strapping on the go-pro)...
by day four, I had finally found my trot. What started as a lot of mechanical thinking and confusion and frustration gradually found bits of grace, moments of connection, stretches of rhythm and finally, ease of movement. It was a remarkable process and has left an indelible mark on my heart. His name is Percy.
And on day 5 Percy and I trotted round lakes and past castles and ruins through the brush and forest to emerge at the edge of the property on a road that marked the line between the north and the south of so much history and then we stopped to see the vast expanse of the green of Ireland. I have seen a lot of beautiful things in my life but this, THIS.
No photo was taken. With all my might I memorized what i saw- the shades of green, the shadow of clouds and sleeping cows. When you’re not feeling well and they ask you to think of a happy place...this is it. And it’s not on facebook.
Learning to ride a horse will force you to be present, to check yourself...your fear, anxiety, your ego- all are felt by the horse and the horse simply won’t go because the horse knows.
As our wise old Irish Orla taught us in the ring….If it doesn’t feel right, then it’s not right. If it does, then it is. Know the difference and make it right!
It is a process and if you haven’t ever had the experience, I promise, it will change your life by creating a point of reference for managing emotions...because horses, like humans- feel each other….
And this my friends, again, is how we become present.
Sometimes being present can be uncomfortable.
For if we can be in this space and resist the distraction and allow the thoughts and feelings to be- that we- discover things. We may not like everything we discover, but this right here is the key, in that space is honesty and in that space is our authenticity... our true lives.
Avoiding being present is as living beside yourself or behind yourself- and watching, observing your life from the outside…..and what kind of life is that?
And now let’s bring it back to home.
Have you ever taken a class where someone is checking their phone throughout?
Have you ever gotten on the bike and been beside yourself with something?
Have you ever been on the bike and been unable to release your ego from the leaderboard, from the great meaning endowed on numbers?
Have you ever been driving and made a wrong turn on a route you know by heart ?
Have you ever had a massage and spent the entire time thinking with your forehead in a knot?
Time is precious. Let’s be present so we don’t miss out on our lives.
Put down the phone. Be clear about being HERE. Listen and HEAR. Look and SEE. Touch and FEEL. Smell and TAKE PAUSE. Taste and SAVOR
With all this in mind- how do we complete these sentences?
I am...What is your state..right here, right now...what hurts, what is the true latitude and longitude of your current state of being? Like Mapquest, we can only get directions by entering our point of origin.
I can...Think possibility, what CAN you do about where you are, and getting where you want to be….to be present. Make a list...what are ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN DO?
I will-...who do you need to be more present for? Are you, yourself one of those people?
I do...Declare it. Make it real, here now. By writing it and speaking it, the alchemy of change has begun