What does being ‘in the moment’ mean to you?
Couple weeks ago, I’d participated in a reading marathon; a first. It was awkward and the crowd was lackluster, filled mostly by faculty members from the English department clearly trying to cheer each other and reluctant freshmen who had to be there as part of their class. Prior to my turn, a faculty member from the aforementioned department had read his piece; he’s apparently a theater actor, having been in many stage productions prior to settling in teaching, though he still participates in acting part-time. His piece was about being ‘in the moment’ and likened it to the stage-acting business. “Are we,” he’d posed his question at the end of every brief anecdote read aloud, “in the moment?”
I’d enjoyed his piece very much and it has stayed with me since. What does it mean, being in the moment?
To be honest, I think my life here is exactly that. Accumulation of many moments, fleeting one after another. I’m not saying that my life here is therefore insignificant, rather that I’m stating this matter-of-fact because I acknowledge and am fully aware that it’s incredibly different than the sort of life I live at home – perhaps my true real life, if I may call it that. It’s part of the reason as to why my two lives can never intersect, even within my mind. One always feels unreal, when I’m on the other side. Over here, I think I am perpetually an observer. Even as a participant, it’s like I’m still inside, looking outside.
The sort of lifestyle that’s common here is not like anything that I practice in my real life at home. Sometimes it’s really the little, everyday things – the sort that no one but the beholder really notices. The primary one is that it’s an active decision on my part, when I choose to be alone. Being alone is exhilarating to me, away from expectations, social cues, pretenses and hidden masks. Being alone to me, is in no way lonely; it’s freedom, liberation and independence.
In terms of religious practices I don’t drink or party and all my friends at home are aware of this, thus they don’t bring or frequent clubs or places that sell alcoholic beverages with me, for instance. It’s not the safest to be out and about in the city of Kuala Lumpur, what more to be a single female traveler and to be out at nighttime, hence I’m rarely out after dark and if I am, it’s often with family, rarely friends. Furthermore, there is an unspoken rule about betrayal in the family, one I try not to cross and am particularly mindful of since way back when: very simply it’s each other, family, over friends. For this reason, when I am back home I’m almost always surrounded by family members – my life all along has mostly revolved around the family. My life is not mine, I’d admitted plenty times, when told to describe the kind I lead at home.
Over here? Complete opposite. I still practice a strict halal diet, but obviously restaurants that serve halal food are far and few, thus I do frequent them, easily steering away from the drinks and the meat-based meals. Beer is like water here and hanging out over drinks be it beer, wine or whatever else, is part and parcel of down time, bonding sessions and the like; I’ve come to learn the social cues and lingos. I’ve learned to participate for the occasion or crowd, now getting used to delicately refraining where required.
I admit I don’t make it known that I’m Muslim, so the whys behind my no-alcohol and meat – I’ll be honest: I’m afraid of the judgment. In truth, maybe it doesn’t even matter or even if it does, it will… but for like, two seconds. Yet, whenever I’m with my American peers I still find it incredibly difficult that to be honest, I’ve only told two friends over the duration I’ve been here. I don’t think my senior design teammates for instance, are even aware. I’m not sure if the conversations will skew in the right directions or not; there is such a thing called Islamaphobia and I’m unfortunately not brave enough to persevere through it if it really happens, hence for the most part I’ve kept this to myself.
In addition, the dating game, sleeping around and relationships basically, are very common here. Honestly I think it’s equally as common back home – just not in my circle. Malaysia is a moderate Muslim country, thus the Islamic lifestyle is normal in society and very often, intertwined with cultural aspects too (not always the right way to go, but this is a separate discussion), which is partly why I’ve never even considered the things I don’t do as uncommon because they’ve honestly, never crossed my mind. Then I wade half the globe and like a fish out of the water, I discovered that stuff on television are apparently true and common here.
Personally, I’m not bothered by the things I don’t do because my religious fundamentals are very clear as the basis behind my do’s and don’ts. To me this stance is clear: it’s not in place to judge the sort of life anyone lives, nor am I about to act like anyone’s mother or long-lost religious guide because one does things I don’t. The dilemma however, lies in the fact that do others think the same way? Will they be accepting of me in the same manner that I am of them? Religion I’ve come to realize, is such a prickly issue for the young here and post-9/11, Islam is a trickier one to tackle.
I would like so much to be testament that it’s no big deal – that it is, but to myself and need not be to you – and more than that, living proof that it’s not an oppressive lifestyle; I’m happy and accepting of who I am and my lifestyle, plus thinks I live a very normal one with equally normal worries and motivations. However, I admit that up until now, I’m uncertain of how others will react. I don’t get into relationships here not because I’m not interested, but because they’ll be fruitless; I can’t walk that line and I won’t make anyone walk that line for me, either.
Will they understand this? Will they shake their heads, laugh at my doe-eyed innocence, or my rigidity in principle? Will they understand in a deep, respecting manner that while I am not at all imposing my religious virtues, I am in no way cool with another belittling or speaking carelessly of spirituality or the existence of God? Will they attempt to tell me to shrug it off, that it’s all about being ‘in the moment’?
So what does it mean?
For me, it’s as if I’d been granted access to an otherworldly space for a brief period of time. It’s as if I’d been given the green light to be an unsuspecting observer – part of the in-jokes, otherwise inaccessible locations and unexpected conversations.
In this moment, I do not matter – where I’m from, who and what I am, none of these matter; I am simply part of a conversation and crowd. In this moment, all that matters is the peripheries of the present – my past, history and background cease to even exist as the’re overshadowed by the on-goings of lives here. They do not need to know of my do’s and don’ts, of places they can’t even pronounce, what more point on a map and of my life’s purposes driven by what would perhaps be to the young and able, an intangible form. Youth means constantly being in the moment, fading in and out of it through another drunken night out, another music-filled concert, another all-night bangin’ party and the like. For most of them, college life is the very definition of being in the moment. There’s no room to think, what more to make sense of anything.
Whenever I try to put to perspective the life I’ve led thus far and attempt to coherently describe the exactness in the differences… I’m always surprised. My entire life here… is about being in a moment.
In this moment – nothing is sound, nor is it real; nothing ceases to matter and exist.
I am an empty canvas, my lenses tinted with gray hues. I am part of the crowd, breaking and coming together in parts, as I observe, silent and unsuspecting, at the rapid motions. I am the joints in every ins and outs of conversations, overhearing and listening without notice.
I am not the moment; it is me.