The moment. It’s all we have. Life is nothing if not a series of individual moments, and learning to appreciate each and every one of them is part of the project of being. This year, I’ve thought a lot about the present moment. Knowing that contributing to a project on mindfulness meditation was likely to be one of my tasks when I took up my post at the RSA, I spent some time during the summer reading about the subject.
My dad is a big fan of the Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh, so I went back to last year’s Christmas present, The Blooming of the Lotus. I finally bought Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic, Full Catastrophe Living after a few years of stingily reading the photocopied chapters given to me by a friend. Being absurdly prejudiced against fat books (Full Catastrophe Living is about 500 pages), I got hold of Kabat-Zinn’s lighter-weight volume Wherever You Go, There You Are. I made an attempt to instate a daily meditation practice, sometimes using Kabat-Zinn’s guided meditations, and sometimes trying to follow Thich Naht Hanh’s exercises.
All of this has been enriching, and although I’ve not been terribly good at sticking to the daily meditation, I’ve definitely felt the benefit of mindfully attending to moments throughout each day. Only today, I really savoured my first sip of tea and properly relished the sight of the sun glistening on the Thames as I cycled to work.
It is a glorious triumph of storytelling, but it is also a sort of a call to cherish what we might think of as the infinitesimal and irrelevant instants of our existence.
Last night, I was brought face to face with the present moment in a different way. I had the huge privilege of witnessing an utterly spellbinding and jubilant celebration of the littlest moments of life, Daniel Kitson’s one-man play It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later. It is a glorious triumph of storytelling, but it is also a sort of a call to cherish what we might think of as the infinitesimal and irrelevant instants of our existence.
The play stories the lives of William Rivington and Caroline Carpenter, tripping backwards and forwards from moment to moment, taking in the turning of a page in a magazine, a glance across a room at a party, the moment of flight as a young Caroline falls from her bike. Each segment is symbolised by a glowing bulb on the stage, Kitson padding between them, marking out the patterns of events in his characters’ lives. We get to know them through these small moments – William somewhat gruff and misanthropic, and Caroline, endearingly conventional. At one point, we hear of desperate Caroline trudging in the rain with an inconsolable screaming baby. She encounters an older woman, who looks her in the eye and says (something like) “all of this is completely normal”.
At the beginning, Kitson warned the audience “this is no more a story about love than the bible is about woodwork”. Actually, I think love pulses throughout the whole piece – Kitson’s own empathic, compassionate and affectionate love for the human race. Along the way, it’s incredibly funny, and Kitson’s way with words is extraordinary and inimitable. I wish I could remember the detail of some of the surging alliterative passages which sweep you along on a tide of hilarious profundity, and pin you to your seat, right there in that moment.
it’s all about celebrating humanity, reminding us to savour the preciousness of our relationships, and to rejoice in the singularity of the most mundane of moments.
For those who don’t know Daniel Kitson, he made his name as a stand-up comedian. Indeed, earlier this year he was voted the best British comedian of all time by his contemporaries. But, his material in recent years has changed pace, style and tone, and I think it’s fair to say it’s morphed into something that’s not really comedy. Since 2009’s The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, Kitson has written monologues, storytelling plays, peppered with comedy, but not driven by it. These days it’s all about celebrating humanity, reminding us to savour the preciousness of our relationships, and to rejoice in the singularity of the most mundane of moments.
So, if you possibly can, go and see this show – on tonight and tomorrow (morning and evening) at the National Theatre.