I encountered a beautiful idea recently – the meanwhile place. It’s the idea of using temporary spaces for all sorts of things while they are waiting to be redeveloped, or sold, or for the local council to decide what to do with them. There’s even a foundation devoted to promoting the idea – The Meanwhile Foundation. It wasn’t just that the idea of making use of unused spaces while they are in limbo felt eminently sensible, but there was something instantly appealing about the idea of letting go of the need to have permanence, certainty, ownership. That a group of people might take on a space, do something with it, in the meanwhile feels almost spiritual. To let go of the idea of permanence like that is something I aspire to in my own life. That idea of the meanwhile seems to me a much more powerful way of thinking about ‘the now’, holding us as it does not in some impossible to achieve life without future (or past) but rather in balance with it. It allows for the future to be part of the now without dominating it.
Like many of us I’ve been taken with the idea that to live in the now is a good thing. Yet for all my efforts I fail more often than not. The now is very hard place to be, the future casts a long shadow. Staying in the now requires such effort, and feels so odd and artificial. Truth be told it’s a place I visit rather than truly inhabit. There are good reasons for that of course. Growing up we are constantly asked to consider our future. But that future is a very specific kind of future. It’s where we imagine ourselves to be something, to achieve something. Thinking of it we learn to worry that we might not make it to ‘being something’ and in that worry is born a number of the things that will haunt us the rest of our lives – a sense of inadequacy, the need to strive, the confusion of self with status or place in the world. Our neuroticism is born in that compulsion to live in the future. Even when life casts the future into the seas of ‘not knowing’ (as MS did me) its Siren call not only persists, but increases. Now we have so many futures to fret about – the one in the wheelchair, the one with the breathing apparatus, the one cut short. The now becomes more and more elusive.
But the meanwhile, the meanwhile feels so much more comfortable. I am here in the meanwhile, as we all are. While I am here I might as well… I might as well try this, I might as well try that. Freed from the effort of resisting the Siren calls of Past and Future that the idea of the Now imposes, life becomes lighter, freer. After all isn’t now really just the time in limbo between past and future? Isn’t life just a series of flashes of impermanence? Aren’t we really just like children grasping at dandelion seeds or bubbles? Kids don’t worry about the bubbles they missed – they laugh and embrace the fleetingness of it all. It doesn’t matter that we miss so many in the meanwhile, because we catch some and there will be more. In the meanwhile we can enjoy what have managed to grasp without mourning what was, or worrying about what will be, missed. In the meanwhile the Sirens are heard, but need not obeyed.
Life in the meanwhile… Now that seems achievable.