The first, completely unexpected and random, was an article in 'Oh Comely' magazine (Issue 22) about 10 year olds in an art class painting single blocks of colour and then writing a paragraph about what they see. It was an activity they had been set by a particularly inspired teacher and the results of the exercise both astonished and moved me. How could 10 year olds write such powerful, soulful reflections on something as simple as a colour? Take this, for example, on the colour white:
"Huge clouds blanket the vast sky, making the unbearable feeling of loneliness and emptiness ache even more, along with the annoyingly repetitive flavour of minty toothpaste, but soon all the heart aching worries disappear and the snow, now flying swiftly towards the jagged pavement brings the beautiful, joyous and wonderful feeling of peacefulness; children laugh, adults smile and I savour this sweet moment like it is my last".
I mean ... What? They're how old?
The second, apparently unconnected to the first, was an article written by the author Lionel Shriver entitled "I was Poor but I was Happy" where she discusses the nature of happiness and what it means to her. (Click on the link, it's well worth the read).
Happiness. Well, there is a big subject. We all think about it. We all pursue it. We all wonder if we're getting enough of it. I've thought about it myself at great length and wondered at its nature. I mean, what is it exactly? It's not contentment exactly (too sedate) and it's not joy either (too exhausting). It is elusive, hard to recognise, and once you find it, it is difficult to keep hold of. Happiness, like the future, is unpredictable and always just out of reach. And, it would seem, the only place it is to be found freely and in uncomplicated abundance, is in the past.
In retrospect, Lionel Shriver sees her past, despite its challenges and deprivations, as a time when she was happy and I don't doubt that she was happy. The point of this article was to highlight the fact that money does not bring happiness, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with, having experienced both ends of the economic scale, but the common thinking amongst those of us who are relatively poor is to imagine that money will take away fear, in particular the fear of the future.
But it doesn't.
Fear of the future is fear of the unknown and no amount of money will take that away. What makes the past such a happy, nostalgic place is the present day knowledge that 'everything turned out alright in the end' ... So far, at least. Whether you are happy or miserable, rich or poor, The Future remains an unknowable, shadowy country and no amount of planning can make it safe. Only the past is safe.
I was thinking about all of this on my walk because for the last two years I have been happier than I have ever been, but recently a certain anxiety about the future has crept in and I have been conscious that this anxiety has stolen a little of the happiness from me. And so I have wondered why it was that for the past two years I have felt so blissfully at peace, and the answer of course lies in the fact that for the last two years I have perfected the art of living in the moment. For the first time in all my adult life, I have been exactly where I wanted to be doing exactly what I wanted to do. And I have absolutely, categorically, refused to worry about what comes next.
Being a self-employed artist, the future is always going to be unpredictable, and I have wondered recently at my choices. Until I remember that The Future is unpredictable regardless of your choices. A brush with life-threatening illness nine years ago taught me that, which is why I now make the effort to live my life in the moment and which is why I have been all the happier for doing so.
But it isn't always easy, and sometimes we need the odd little reminder to keep us on track. Which is where I come back to the 10 year olds and their wonderful, spontaneous descriptions of colour. Children, generally speaking, understand all about 'The Now'. To them, The Past is as murky as The Future, and just as untroubling. What matters to a child is what is happening here and now. It is all about The Moment. The description of the colour white is so affecting because it is so unguarded, so immediate, so responsive to The Now. And this week, it served as a reminder to myself of what makes me happy. Right now.
Here are a few images of 'The Now' that I took on my walk ...