The Power of Now

An assembly of recent strangers and now acquaintances were sitting on a sunlit patio in Italy at the end of a consensus conference.  They agreed on next steps for a new educational program and were congratulating themselves on surviving the two-day journey of “storming” and “norming” (as they say in group formation speech).  It was then, in the last moments of this meeting of minds, that one of the participants, Janet, said “We have ten minutes. Let’s go ahead and pick our case studies.”

Everyone groaned and protested.  They felt they had worked so hard, and now deserved a rest from the doing of anything. But Janet persisted. In that ten minutes they selected two stories to turn into case studies, outlined the contents, and nominated the working groups.

Janet did this time and again throughout my association with this particular organization.  Some people rolled their eyes, and protested, but in the end her gentle insistence won out, and progress was made.  I came to call this “the power of now”, and it is one of the greatest lessons I learned from Janet.

Procrastination, one could argue, is a general human tendency.  If it isn’t urgent, life-threatening, or otherwise pressing, why do today what you can put off for tomorrow.  While living in Italy, I became familiar with a phrase embracing this concept: Doppo domani. As in, I’ll do it the day after tomorrow.

I used to procrastinate, somehow feeling like a hero for staying up until 3 A.M. to put together a shoddy paper less than 24 hours before it was due.  While I have been able to whittle this mindset out of my life, it does still exist in various incarnations.  Do I get gas now, or put if off for the morning? Do I do that less desirable project now, or prioritize something over it? Do I take these last five minutes in my working day to be productive, or do I slide through that time?  Do I write this post, or zone out on facebook?

Here’s the thing; procrastination takes so much energy and is much more painful than just doing the task on a normal timescale.  I have never once regretted doing something now, which could be put off for tomorrow.  More often than not, I’ve been grateful to have tackled something on my ever-expanding list of things I want to accomplish.

There is a more philosophical tack to take on “the power of now”.  None of us know how much time we have in this existence.  A friend of a friend suddenly and unexpectedly lost her soulmate.  In these moments we reevaluate things we consider important.  When we are on the threshold of leaving this existence, what parts of our lives will bring us joy, and at what parts will we despair as distractions from the heart of living?  We can all use the power of now to build a more fulfilled life.


Rooftops, Italian style

2012 May 14-Milano by InkSpot's Blot
2012 May 14-Milano, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Believe it or not, this is a roof top. Granted, it isn’t just any rooftop. These ornate sculptures blossom from the flying buttresses that support the vertical structure of the famous gothic cathedral in Milan. From the ground level, you can hardly see the roof past the towering walls populated with sculptures of the saints, and stained glass windows. Even from further away, at least for me, there is an overwhelming sense of vertical movement. The church pours against gravity, up into the sky. A steam punk spaceship. There was no hint the cathedral is adorned from toe to head. Only when I emerged from the dark stairwell onto the stony surface of the roof, and saw the first ornate gargoyle did I realize what was hiding up there.

At the time, I was thinking, holy crap. This is a shit-ton of detail. These decorations on top of the buttresses are only a snippet of what’s up there. More sculptures stand, sentinel-like, over the city. Cherubs and sweeping floral motifs carved out of rock line the staircases. All this effort for a place most people will never see.

My practical, logical side sees it as an excess. Sure, it has purpose, a way for the Church to flex its power, flash its wealth. But they could have done that with a plain rooftop and an interior dripping with semi-precious stones, velvet and exotic woods and marble. My romantic, touchy, feely artistic side, sees the need. Acutely.

Enter one of my current internal debates. Need versus want. It seems simple on the surface, but human nature makes it difficult, especially in American culture, where we live in a 24-hour, on-demand society. Anything we need, everything we want could be.

So how do you really define need versus want? For example, I need affection. From friends and family of course, but I’m talking specifically in reference to a “significant other” type person. At first I thought it was a want. It seems like a frivolous thing, as long as other expression are conveyed, one could (maybe) do without affection. Frankly not having it was driving me mad. And not in a good way. I had to learn that this wasn’t a “oh, that’d be nice to have”, but a need. Layers can confuse the issue, past experiences and personal stigmas, not to mention other people’s definitions of need and want.

The Duomo roof does not need to be decorated like a queen on her birthday to function as a roof. However, there is a need for a vision to be materialized (eg. for the architect). Maybe the craftsmen felt a need to give their god a gift, something beautiful to look upon. According to John Keat (famously in Ode to a Grecian Urn), the need could be as simple as existing for the pure sake of existing.

Travel shots: Eyes and Knives

There’s a knife sticking out of her neck. If she turned more toward us, you’d see she is serving up a dish of her own eyes on that little plate. This isn’t Dia de los Muertos, or All Hallow’s Eve. Quite the opposite. It’s a bright day in May. People—not only from Siracusa, but from all over Sicily—have mobbed the town square. There is music and priests and suited sweaty men carrying a silver statue and suited sweaty women carrying the reliquary.

Meet Santa Lucia. This is one of her days. Twice a year, the town of Siracusa, Italy (pictured here) celebrates her life and her martyrdom. Although they don’t own the rights to her; she is revered worldwide by the devoted. What makes her so worthy of celebration? I guess if you’re religious, the answer is rather automatic. However, one does not become a saint easily, and there are a bevy of macabre, violent, and passionate stories making up each person’s legend that transcend religious afflictions.

Lucia (Lucy) was born in the 3rd century to Roman parents. Her father died when she was young, leaving her and her mother alone in a time that was not so friendly to women. Thankfully she came from a wealthy family. Her first act of rebellion came with a betrothal. Not only did she reject the man, she also donated her dowry to the poor.

Bitter with rejection, her fiance ratted her out to the authorities, which is when the persecution (read torture) began. The Christian legend said that she could not be moved, by the force of men, oxen, a knife in her throat, or upon having her eyes gouged out. Consequently, she became the saint to the blind and those of poor sight.

It’s rather amazing that a girl (she was 21 years old when she died), could be so sure and confident, so passionate in what she believed, that she would go against her family AND her society to stay true to those beliefs. Sure, there are many possible interpretations of her behavior. Suicidal. Disillusioned. Crazy. I prefer to believe she was resolute. Stubborn. Strong. THIS would make her quite worthy of celebration.

Photo Friday

Forza Napoli by InkSpot's Blot
Forza Napoli, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Do you ever get stuck in something? Like a general notion of how to do something comes to you from some nebulous place and you tear your teeth into it, clench your jaws, and breathe madly through your nose, and you won’t let go.

Umm. Hmm. Maybe it’s just me.

I got trapped in the thought that I should only post “new” photos (nevermind the THOUSANDS I’ve taken in my lifetime). However it’s a busy new year, and I have not had much time for adventuring (yet). I have all these cool photos from years past that would be awesome to share (like this one).

This is a god. Or at least a statue of one. He represents the Nile River (if I remember correctly) and the abundance that springs from it. Of course, cultures appropriate each others’ best stories, integrate them into whatever the prevailing ideology is. I’m sure this guy was Greek-ified, then Roman-fied.

In this image, he’s soccer-fied. It will be no surprise to many that Italians love soccer. Maybe love is a weak word. They are fanatical.

During the 2007 soccer season, Mr. Nile was dressed up to represent his team. Forza Napoli. A thrill of delight surged through me when I saw him. We were in a typical Neapolitan vicolo. You can see the fading red paint, a color peculiar to historic Neapolitan architecture. The groomed flowers are a nice reminder that, though we were walking through history, on streets that were hundreds, if not thousands of years old, this was still someone’s home. And even though conquerers have come and gone, the remnants they left behind have, in some cases, have been accepted as family.