I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying, “Be present,”or “Be in the present,” but I’m almost convinced that not many of us take that advice. I know I don’t. In fact, it’s something I struggle with every hour. Sometimes every minute. But, before I elaborate on that, here is a quote that describes how we should live our lives:
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” – Maya Angelou
It’s important to remind ourselves daily that today is all we have. Our focus should be on this day and the challenges it brings, however, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from yesterday and plan for tomorrow. Still, it’s important to be content to be in the moment, fully engaged in what you are doing or who you are talking to on any given day.
In a way, I haven’t been focused on the present for the better part of three years. However, when I say “present,” I mean my present time zone: Eastern Standard Time. I have lived in this time zone almost my entire life, minus a few months. It’s a time zone I both love and hate. Those living on EST are the farthest ahead of the rest of the U.S. and several large cities are located in this time zone as well. When we wake up and start our days, residents living on the West Coast are either fast asleep or just going to bed. If you think about it for a few minutes, the world is so unique when it comes to time zones. If Americans are comfortable with their daily schedules and bedtimes and are convinced that their time is “normal,” then what about Australians or New Zealanders? We consider them to be living in the future. Those countries are some 16+ hours ahead of the U.S. If you were to move there long term and adjust to that time zone, your mind would eventually be convinced that your daily schedule there is normal. That the morning in Australia is the only morning that matters, if that makes sense. Adjusting to a new time zone largely has to do with the patterns of the sun. It’s best to throw yourself into the routines of your new place and eat and sleep when the locals do. You’ll be better off in the long run, regardless of how much time you spend in that location. One problem that you’ll always have after returning home or thinking about the home you left behind, is other time zones.
It may not come as a surprise to you that the time zone that has been occupying my mind for some time now is Central European Time (CET). I spent a quarter of a year observing that time in 2010 and again in May 2013 when I returned to Spain for a visit. I fully enjoyed my time there and did my best to adjust to the time zone quickly, but, nevertheless I couldn’t help but think about the time zone I had left behind: Eastern Time. I was glad to have switched places and be in another part of the world – across a huge pond. And though I got a much needed break away from my home, I still couldn’t rid my mind of Eastern Time. Ever since I lived and functioned on CET, I’ve not been able to forget that time zone either. When I’m at home and am up late at night – sort of like now – I’m thinking about how my friends in Europe have been asleep for hours and will soon wake up. I have sometimes been awake so late on my time that I happen to find a friend connected to Skype and we can chat. It’s fun to do every once in awhile but it’s not a habit to get into. I know for sure that I will never forget about that time zone and will always be thinking about it at some point of the day for many years to come. But, it’s not the only time zone that floats around in the back of my mind. If you can believe it, I also have three other time zones paying rent up there.
First off, I contribute daily to a scholarship website called CollegeNET. The company is located in Oregon and so naturally they operate on Pacific Time. By contributing on this site weekly, I have the chance to earn money to pay back my student loans at a faster rate than normal. It takes a lot of time and dedication to participate on the site but it’s worth it. Nonetheless, when I go to post on the website, everyone’s posts are logged in Pacific Time. I have to add three hours to their post time to get the real time they posted (for my knowledge). I also have family living in California and a friend living in Oregon whom I think about often. As long as they are living in that part of the country and I’m contributing my writing to that website, Pacific Time will always occupy a small part of my mind.
Second, another side of my family lives in the Midwest and Great Plains states. I’m also doing freelance work for a couple living in Alabama. All of these people run on Central Time. It’s just one hour behind Eastern Time yes, but when you’re tired, that one hour can sometimes make a big difference to your body and mind. You might want to cut a late night conversation short or even wish that you could be living in that time zone after an unproductive day at work. It’s just natural to want the latter I think.
Lastly, I have been thinking about Hawaii’s time zone for the past couple months. I have had an uncle who has been living there working in the National Guard for some time now. A friend of mine living in Sevilla visited there in April. The time difference between those two places is 12 hours! I have a college friend living there and going to grad school as I type. He and I have talked quite a bit recently. We both have a love for traveling and exploring in common though he has out-traveled me 3 times over. I’ve known for about a year or two what the time difference is between the East Coast and Hawaii. You gain a completely different understanding though when you interact with someone living in that time zone. You start to realize just how far ahead you are time-wise compared to the people living on that island: you eat all of your meals before they do, you wake up well before they do (and sometimes they go to sleep the moment you wake up) and you go to sleep when it’s the middle of the afternoon for them.
After comparing my schedule to theirs, I realized something very…comforting. Let me explain:
I have spent too many years saying that I hate Eastern Time and hate being so far ahead of the rest of the country. Saying those things (and meaning them) has been a waste of my energy, though. Because I have been so focused on the time zones ahead of mine and longing to be on one of those ones instead of my own (sort of contradicts me saying I *hate* being ahead, doesn’t it?), I forgot to look back.
I was so focused on the “future” that I missed out on the unique connection that Eastern Time shares with Hawaii – a 6 hour time difference. It’s the same time difference that exists between my time zone and most other European countries….except I’m like Europe in this situation. I’m the one going to bed at 6PM someone else’s time. What’s more is that I wake up at 1 or 2AM Hawaii time to start my day. I’m the one eating lunch when all they’re craving is breakfast. Those all may be small things to you but to me they mean a lot. Coming to this realization has made me appreciate Eastern Time for….perhaps the first time in my life. I’m seeing it with a new perspective and I couldn’t be happier. For over 3 years I have thought in the back of my mind, “Ah, if only I could be on Spain time. I want to be back on that time zone.” I never even gave one thought to people who are living hours behind my time and how they might wish to be on MY time. I made the wrong assumption about how others perceive Eastern Time due to my own feelings about the time zone. That was very foolish of me.
In the end, whether you’re reading this in the morning, afternoon or evening, the time zone in which you live in is really the only one that should have your attention. And, maybe you are fortunate to have all of your friends and family living in the same time zone. For me and others like me, that’s just not possible. And it will be something I struggle with, perhaps, the rest of my life. However, I think we all could use the reminder to focus on the present – regardless of where you live in the world. It’s good to learn from the past and plan for the future, but the one gift that you and I have at this very moment is today – the present. It will soon become a distant memory and later be forgotten. So, if you’re just waking up this morning or are in the middle of your afternoon, soak that moment in. Do the best you can to be fully engaged with everyone you come into contact today. Do your very best at well, everything! You might wake up tomorrow and not be able to do the things you did today. You might move or change jobs. You might get sick or injured. Your family could grow or shrink. Regardless of what might happen in the future, take hold of each moment that is given to you and just….live it.
What’s holding you back from being present?