I definitely think too much. I always have. But I’ve been trying to tone it down, rid myself of the useless embarrassment of past events and the fear of future interactions with other humans. This self-workshopping requires constant vigilance. I fail often.
For example, the other morning I met with the science department chair at Taipei American School. We had a good conversation that I enjoyed. Before the morning, I ran through possible discussion topics in my head and thought about my possible responses. I consider this alright thinking because it’s like interview prep. But after our chat, I kept wanting to replay certain moments in my head. Times when I rambled, or said something dumb, or could’ve said something better. There’s not point dwelling in these moments – obsessing over them – because they already happened and there’s nothing I can do to change that.
While I was riding the bus back to Keelung after the interview, I was trying not to dwell on the chat or if I got the job or not by thinking about how I can learn to not dwell on the past or future. (I know it’s weird to try to stop thinking by thinking some more, I don’t know what else to do…). Immediately I thought: be present. It seems very obvious, but I’d never thought of it before then. Besides the few times I did mindfulness meditation (in a group in college, and a few times on my own but I really just can’t meditate on my own), it seems incredibly hard to be fully present in the moment.
And then I realized: PERFORMANCE. When I’m “performing*” I am as in the present moment as I can be. I offer two examples of performance.
ONE: I’ve recently realized that I like being on stage. I think I’ve always wanted to perform, but was too scared to put myself out there for fear of rejection. I would only ever do things that were sort of a joke to begin with, like karaoke (my favorite part of college formals at Charter). This year (actually just in the past four months), I’ve been on stage four times: three story slams and one open mic night where I blundered my way through “About a Girl” on guitar while my friend Teacher Rob sang.
By necessity, being on stage means being present; there is no time to dwell on what you’ve just done or what you are suppose to do next. Ideally, you’ve practiced your performance and thus you sail through on muscle memory. But even if you f**k up, you can’t go backwards, you have to keep moving. Every millisecond, you’re hitting refresh on your performance, updating the audience. Every millisecond is new.
When I f**ked up “About a Girl” (by messing up my fingering and continually accidentally striking the E string on the bar chords of the chorus) each time the chorus ended and I went back to the extremely simple Em-G chords of the verses, I couldn’t dwell on how I fucked up the chorus. I had to convince myself it was all good. I had to take every second as a new second. That’s living in the present.
TWO: When I was considering the ways stage performance require living in the present, I realized I felt a similar sensation when racing in spring swimming events (less than or equal to 100 meters). I recalled a specific instance where, on the bus to the meet, my coach told me he was switching me into the 100-yard butterfly against two of the fastest swimmers (they also happened to be twins and two years old than me) in the state. I thought: cool… cool… well… I’m gonna lose hardcore. I started freakin’ out. It wasn’t until I was on the blocks (and within a second of the starting beep sounding the song “Savages” from the Disney Pocahontas soundtrack popped into my head for reasons unknown) that I relaxed. Diving into the water, I sync’d solidly into the flow of the present. My body relied on the memories of what I’d trained it to do in practice. My mind commented briefly on several things (e.g. two more stokes to the wall, hard push here, keep the hips up, etc.), still thinking, but not dwelling. Completely present.
I don’t think I’d want to constantly be performing**. But it’s nice to understand what attracts me to such things that many people are scared to do. It makes me look forward to performing now as a chance to give my mind a break.
*Some would say we are required by society to constantly perform aspects of our identity, but I’m going to disregard that definition of performance and go with the standard.
**See the above asterisk.