Do you remember the clarity of childhood? Out in the playground you would sit observant and care free. Do you remember the smell of the freshly cut woodchips underneath the monkey bars? Everything was so crisp, so fresh and so new. You remember the smell of the damp soil as you dig in the garden. The change in sunlight as the summer’s day turned to a cool afternoon doused in shade. You really did live in the moment.
It’s funny how when you recall childhood memories you really do remember the small details. You remember the smells, the tastes, the texture and the emotion. I remember the colours of my plastic trike, every single part and the sound it used to make when the plastic wheels ground over the asphalt below as the vibrations shook my small happy body. I remember the faded and paint chipped blue bubblers that stood looking sad outside my primary school classroom window and the way the cool water would spurt in different directions, as I would sip during lunchtime of a summer’s afternoon. I can see the weaving and faded patterns of different coloured handball courts that wove through the playground. I remember the colour, feel and smell of my rug for ‘sleep time’ at preschool.
Yet why is it that memories of late seem less vivid? They appear as faded VHS recorded moments with poor colour saturation and void of the associated smells, texture and emotion of the moment itself. Why is it that something I recall from five years ago may have less impact and detail as a memory from childhood?
It is as if we go from directly experiencing the world to then experiencing it through a veil of modern day stress and mental noise. As we get older we give things labels. Likes and dislikes, wants and needs, pleasant and unpleasant and once we do this we no longer really every ‘see’ these now labelled things but experience them through a clouded lens of pre determined judgment that changes our entire view of the world. Never again do you experience things just as they are. Nothing is new anymore, everything has been done. We go from no longer seeing the beach but instead we see a place on dangerous rips, sharks and bluebottles. We no longer see the beautiful sun drenched day, but we see another day of exhausting heat, sunstroke and skin cancer. We don’t see the beautiful view as we gaze from the peak of a mountain but we see a dangerous height where one could fall and bush below where people get lost and die. It’s as if we go from the playground to inside the house where we dwell in what we are so sure we already know.
At first we sit in a clean freshly painted white room with big clear windows through which we still interact with the world, but it’s different. We may still get a waft of spring wattle on the coming summer breeze that floats in through, but we won’t often venture outside to experience it directly. We stare out confused with that look of distracted interest you remember so well witnessing on your parents faces as they watched you play and you craved for attention in the yard outside.
As time goes on the window gets a little dusty and the view through the dirty glass is a little more obscured. The clean new white room has changed and begins to fill with a few objects that grab your attention and distract you slightly from the outside world. Things of worry, concern or dismay fill the room and you begin to focus more on these things than the window now.
Time moves on and again the window gets cloudier and the room fills with more objects that demand your attention as dust fills the corners and your own kids can be viewed outside the now even cloudier window as they glance back to see if you’re looking. But it’s hard, it’s really hard to be present and live in this moment. It’s hard to step outside this room and into the yard when there are so many issues. We live more and more in our own head than we do the actual world. Every now and then we fling open the windows and experience the world again. We are present for a tiny moment as we sit, smell the air and bath in the beauty of the garden but before long our mind takes over and we’re back indoors.
In this modern age we are very rarely present. We don’t notice the details of everyday life as much as we should. We turn to art and media to tell us about the world and we sit in our air-conditioned comfort on our Ikea lounge suite and watch ‘the world’ brought to our living room. Or we may go to a gallery, theatre and other medium in which to qualify ourselves as ‘worldly’. However even the artist whose job it is to reflect our own world back to us reflects a fragmented version of his own preconceived idea of our world. Every now and then a masterpiece will be created. This usually happens when an artist is present long enough to notice the beauty and detail in an everyday object or place and is able to capture it free of pre conceived judgement and ideas and can reflect that experience back to us. When this happens it is astonishing because it communicates with our inner child linking directly back to a time of freedom, clarity, and happiness. It takes us to a time when we really did experience the world. This is the ultimate triumph for the artist.
So how do we go back to experiencing the world as new? How do we get out of our minds because if we don’t you will be stuck in that room and it will get worse.
You will start to draw the curtains over the only window for fear the sun may fade the furniture and the room will fill with clutter that you begin to cling to. You associate yourself with these inanimate objects more than you do the real world. The dust builds, the cobwebs grow and you’re stuck in a cluttered room of material possessions that represent faded memories of a time when you used to live in the real world so you cling on to them harder.
What’s the answer? Be present. Learn to tame your mind to stop its incessant noise and commentary. Try to simply view the world without judging. Enjoy the little things, bath in the detail, the sights, the smells, the texture the feeling.
Get out of the room and step into the garden, even if just to sit there. Otherwise the window will grow smaller and the world will change without you. Be present and observant like a child swinging on the cool smooth steel monkey bars smelling the fresh woodchips and thinking nothing else but that.