Carpe diem! Live life to the fullest! Live for the moment!
The advice flying at us from memes can be in-your-face upbeat. Inspiring, isn’t it? I guess so, but when I see those memes, I can’t help panicking a bit. Have I seized the day today?! I don’t know. Am I making the absolute, utmost use of this very moment??! Um…can I get back to you on that one?
Sure, I understand those memes are trying to remind us to wake up and smell the coffee, or stop and smell the roses, or do something besides smelling. Still, when I see them, I can’t help feeling there’s pressure to be “on”–successful in some way at all times, or at least heading somewhere important. It could just be my interpretation that’s faulty. Maybe such inspiration swooshes right over my head.
Image via pixabay/geralt
Memento vivere represents another of those meme-worthy phrases, yet it’s not something you hear everyday (at least I don’t–I only encountered it through researching another post). I like that it’s under-used. It seems to come with less pressure and maybe even without an exclamation mark. Translated from Latin, it means “remember to live,” and it’s essentially a mid-nineteenth century response to the much older memento mori (aka “remember to die”). Although I’m pretty comfortable with memento mori, it does seem to hint that we should hurry up and do something. (Maybe it’s the clock ticking in the background of the phrase and some of its related imagery?)
Still, memento vivere is kind of refreshing:
Hey, good morning to you. Memento vivere.
Oh yeah, remember to live. Got it. Thanks!
In comparison, hurry-up/life-is-fleeting kind of phrasing has one of two effects on me: if I’m feeling up to the challenge, it can light a welcome fire under my lazy bum. If I’m feeling a little less-than, it can overwhelm me and shut me down completely.
Hello, Rut. Mind if I step inside?
Image via pixabay/lajospeszt
This is why I’ve decided to assign my own interpretation to memento vivere. (It’s old and Latin, so I figure I can play with its original connotations if I feel like it.)
For me, memento vivere now means: remember to live, in the sense that you should keep coming back to being awake and aware in the present moment. A little less catchy than the original meaning, but it’s a work in progress. Still, it entails the following: no pressure to fill each moment with mountain climbing or CEO-ing or masterpiece making. Instead, be awake and absorb what you can of the experience and meaning happening right now, right where you are.
Still a fuzzy concept, yes? Here I am in this moment, now this moment, now this one….
I find it helpful to think of it in similar terms to meditation. I used to consider meditation to be a restrictive, super self-controlled practice. Full lotus position, no peeking, no thinking, maybe levitate a little. I now understand that there can be a lot more flexibility to the practice. Hey, if you’re meditating and your thoughts wander? No worries. Acknowledge the random thoughts, don’t punish yourself for going astray, and then just come back to your breathing. Lather, rinse, repeat. You can meditate when you walk, when you brush your teeth, when you wash the dishes…it’s just a time to be, and if you can’t be, well then, come back to your breathing whenever you’re able.
He can probably levitate
Image via Unsplash/Ashes Sitoula
Same goes, I’ve decided, for memento vivere. Lose focus on life? Well, just keep coming back to the present. Sure, you’re going to get tugged into memories of your glory days, when you climbed Mt. Everest or won the spelling bee (I’ve never done either, so you have me there). Enjoy those memories, acknowledge them for what they are (experiences of the past), and come back to your present. You’re going to find yourself thinking about the future, too–maybe worrying about it or, better, anticipating it. All good, too. Just acknowledge that it is the future and, as such, unknowable. Then, come back to your present.
But what if you’re stuck in a rut in your present life? As I wrote in my recent post, When The Journey Sucks, that is a-okay. Ruts happen to all of us. Just acknowledge the rut instead of wasting time and energy denying and fearing it. Learn what you can from your rutty experience, so you can gather the strength and knowledge to move on when it’s time.
What if you’re in the middle of a root canal? Should you try to stay present in that kind of moment? How can I answer, except by throwing another trite phrase at you? Life is hard, sometimes. Be there, acknowledge your fears and give yourself a mental hug; also, acknowledge your strength as you’re moving through the experience. Those thoughts might enhance your understanding of something else, at a later time.
The good, the bad, the ugly–they’re all parts of our lives and each has something to offer us. Much of life falls into the spaces where they overlap, too. There’s often a downside to something good, just as there’s usually an upside to something bad, whether we know it immediately or not for a long, long time. Our lives are difficult and wonderful, and it serves us best to participate in them fully.
The Thinker, chimpanzee style…just because
Image via pixabay/skeeze
Last, but not least, if we’re fortunate enough to catch hold of the present moment, awake and aware, maybe the most important thing we can do is to be honest: peel away the layers of story we tell ourselves about our lives, and see our real selves, right where we are, right how we are. Then, it would be a really, really good thing if we could show ourselves some compassion and understanding, because we all need that, don’t we? If it’s a new experience for you and it feels uncomfortable, remember it’s easier to spread love if you share it with yourself, too.
So anyway, memento vivere. Remember to live. Go ahead and dream, send out wishes and hopes for the future. Enjoy those momentous memories of your past. But, as often as you can, come back to your breaths, come back to your present moment.
You are here.
(To channel Mr. Rogers, you’re also beautiful and worthy of love–right now, just as you are.)
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day
Image via Unsplash/Anton Repponen/Song reference–Nina Simone
*As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a huge fan of Tara Brach and her teachings. They helped inspire this post.