I haven’t always been able to live in the present moment. My bike ride today reminded me of that.
I actually came back from cycling having swallowed a fly.
I had swallowed the aforementioned fly as I had been smiling (open-mouthed it would seem) at the beautiful view of the Pyrenees that had gloriously unravelled before me as I came up one of the last hills. I love cycling and it was one of those happy-to-be alive moments.
Nothing special about that, I hear you cry. I mean, come on, Lou, you live in the south of France!
I hear you! France is just beautiful. There is a reason for it being the most visited country every year. The French are maybe not being (entirely) arrogant when they say it is the most beautiful country in the world.
However, if you skip back a few years, I wasn’t at all grateful about being in my adopted country. My partner and I had separated, and I had made the choice to stay in France so that my daughter would grow up with both her parents. Yes, that’s right it was a choice. Incidentally, a choice I have never regretted.
I chose not to live in the present moment
I had no regrets, but I had performed some rather intricate mental gymnastics. I saw the ramifications of my life choice as now imposed on me. As a result, I was counting down the days to reclaim freedom.
I was constantly living in the future.
Don’t we all do this in some ways at some point in our lives? To avoid addressing the immediate niggle, we project into a future where the niggle doesn’t exist.
I have come a long way since back then. By focusing in on my dislike of France, I realised I didn’t dislike France at all. I was just mad at myself for having uprooted my whole life for a relationship that was never meant to be.
And that was me living in the past.
Do you see where I am going with this?
It’s not easy to live in the present moment, but it’s possible
I am now generally rather annoyingly positive about most things. I take each day as it comes. This doesn’t mean I accept toxic situations. Choosing to live in the present moment means I can see them even more clearly for what they are.
So, if you are feeling a niggle in a job, relationship or any other situation, don’t resent it and don’t flee from it. Try to address it head on and try to work out what it is exactly that is bugging you. And then take some time to look at all the good things that are going on in your life too.
This will either give you the clarity and energy to move away from that situation or help you address it in another way as you have now identified the real issue.
And just to inspire you, here is my (mostly) light-hearted take on 5 things that I now love about France.
#1. The French are a feisty bunch
Yes, I am willing to hold my hands up and say I do like French people.
Bear with me on this one. There is a lot of French bashing out there, but the French are — like many other nationalities — just wildly misunderstood in my view.
Now, I am the first to admit that the French do love a good whinge. The French even admit this themselves. It is the French paradox, they live in “the most beautiful country in the world” and yet always seem to be complaining about something.
But to be fair, part of their discontent is linked to the fact they have not given up the fight.
A fight for what? Their rights mostly. More equal distribution of wealth. Freedom. The truth. Accountability of the elite.
Don’t push the French too hard. They don’t cut off heads anymore, but they can easily grind the country to a halt what they are pissed off.
And yes, that is annoying when you can’t get from A to B, but I would rather that than 67m sheeple.
#2. Voulez-vous parler avec moi ce soir ?
I know, I know, I am tapping in the classics for a moment, but the French language is rather beautiful and actually as a language goes, not that tricky. With just two words you can have a whole conversation:
You: Ça va ?
French person: Ça va. Ça va ?
You: Ça va.
Et voilà, the hello-how-are-you part is covered. Throw in a smile, a “merci”, laugh if they laugh and add a Gallic shrug and you can probably stretch that to a 3-minute chat.
So, the French language is lovely, whether in general conversation or art forms such as music and literature.
Just one no-go area for me: French cinema. It’s not that they don’t have good actors. They just seem to not like dénouement in their films, which is odd as it is essentially a French word. Basically, the credits just seem to start rolling after about 90 minutes, wherever you are in the storyline at that time.
Maybe it is about leaving the ending up to you. I don’t know, but I find every visit to the cinema frustratingly non-conclusive.
#3. Fall and we will catch you
So, this one is admittedly less light-hearted, but I just need a couple of minutes to vent about the shambles of a UK government that is currently in power.
The French are less demonstrably charitable than the Brits, but if we break down charity isn’t it more about helping others, rather than being seen to help others anyway?
Solidarity is more woven into French society and into the social model, that to be fair French people and businesses contribute to generously via the social charges deducted from their income.
A friend of mine signed for her new job just a week before COVID-19 lockdown started in France. Her employer has put her on paid furlough until the end of June (reimbursed by the State). The same friend’s son is being taken into hospital next week for an emergency eye operation otherwise he will lose his sight. This is all covered by the State health system.
In the UK, pensioners have been sponsored doing marathons around their garden and raising money playing the piano all to raise money for the National Health Service. The National Health Service is not a charity, it is a public service. Whilst their intention is well-founded, I am watching from afar aghast.
What kind of world do I want to live in? Not one where we are applauding pensioners for doing what the State has failed to do.
Come on, Boris! Once you have covered up for your mate, Dom, maybe you can start putting all that money you are saving from EU membership into the NHS. That’s what you promised everyone on the side of that big bus, wasn’t it?
#4. Food, glorious food
UNESCO actually granted French food world heritage status in 2010. I am not too sure how that works in practice, but as a lactose intolerant, non-meat eater, a lot of French food is wasted on me anyway.
What I like about France are more the French attitudes to food.
The French LOVE food. They take their time with it. They talk about it. And I mean they talk about it A LOT.
Mealtimes are a moment to be marked in the day. They believe in a balanced diet and a little bit (but not too much) of whatever you fancy won’t hurt you. They eat in season and France is a country that is largely self-sustainable when it comes to lots of different food types.
People, of all ages, know how to cook here. When I came to France, I learnt to make multiple variants on a basic salad dressing, how to boil an egg where the yolk is neither hard nor soft, the hours of love and patience you need to make a beef bourguignon and how to make a Chantilly that doesn’t come in a squeezy can. The list goes on.
We never did such things in home economics classes back in high school in Wales. We made scones with out-of-date flour.
The hardest thing has maybe been cooking for the French. They are a tough crowd. My tactic over the years has been to offer them world cuisine. It is a strategy that takes them to places where they have no point of reference. This has worked well, apart from the time I came back to my Indian chapati dough to find that a French friend has added rosemary and sea salt. It would make for a good marriage of flavours, he said.
#5. Who doesn’t like French wine?
Couldn’t really end without talking about wine. I mean, the French invented the stuff.
Okay, there is no actual historical veracity to that statement. I just googled it and earliest evidence of wine fermentation has been found in sites in China, but let’s be fair they do know their way around the subject better than most. In common parlance: they own that shit.
French wine has been criticised at times — not for being rubbish (that’s a technical oenological term) but for being hard to decipher. Whilst new world wines have opted for easy to read labels that tell you exactly how and when and with which foods to drink your wine of choice, French winemakers have not followed this line of marketing so much.
If you are confused, here is a little bit of advice: there are three colours: rouge, blanc and rosé (the latter only to be drank in the summer); French wine-sellers or waiters know their wines inside out so don’t hesitate to ask and always, always avoid wine in plastic bottles.
So that’s it from me.
A little shout out to France and the French to say thanks for taking me into your bosom and all the great things you show me very day.
Choosing to live in the present moment
If you have read this far, merci.
And you may also remember how I asked you right back at the beginning about whether you were feeling unhappy in a job, a relationship or any other situation.
Why not trying right now to address whatever is bothering you head on, and then try to pull out the good things from that situation too.
A little word of warning though, practicing gratitude isn’t about sweeping the bad stuff under the carpet. That bit still needs to be addressed too. Remember I said, when I analysed my dislike of France, it wasn’t actually anything to do with France. It was more to do with my inability to just let past decisions go.
There are some things you can change in life that relate to personal choice, and others that you can’t.
The part you always choose — is how you react.
I remember a friend saying to me once that he had heard an expression that said, “when it rains, you should learn to dance in the rain.”
I asked him, “what about moving out of the rain?”
You’ll need to make your own mind up on that one, whilst you ask yourself if you want to live in the present moment or not.
Photo by Rhys Kentish on Unsplash