I used to say that all the time. Some days, I'd feel as though I was running around in a fog, frenetically racing to get through the day.
Then something clicked.
The most valuable gift I ever got
My best friends tend to give me self-help books. Books with titles like “Self-Esteem” and “Healing The Shame That Binds You” that attract looks of pity from fellow subway riders. They're not everyone’s idea of the perfect gift, perhaps, but I genuinely appreciate them.
One of the books was “Peace Is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh. In simple language, he teaches how you can find joy and peace in the simple things all around you. When I first read the book a little over three years ago, a particular passage rang true like an alarm clock waking me from my sleep-running through each day:
“Life is filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. Our breathing, for example, can be very enjoyable. I enjoy breathing every day. But many people appreciate the joy of breathing only when they have asthma or a stuffed-up nose. We don’t need to wait until we have asthma to enjoy our breathing. Awareness of the precious elements of happiness is itself the practice of right mindfulness."
“That’s me!” I thought. Hurrying through life and missing it! Waiting till it’s too late to appreciate the things right in front of me!
It made me stop and think: what if, like the book said, you could find joy and peace in moments throughout the day instead of striving for happiness in the future?
Touching the treadmill
Since then, I’ve been trying all sorts of ways to do just that. Breathing. Meditating. And I discovered how difficult it is to do something as simple as “being present”. It seemed impossible to change my habit of hurrying. My mind kept racing ahead or looking behind and I couldn’t seem to stop it.
The thing that’s helped me is something I wrote about last week: “touching the treadmill”. That post was about how starting with even a ridiculously simple first action can help you make progress towards some very big changes. Well, in Buddhism it’s said there are 90,000 subtle gestures to practice. So instead of the audacious goal of “Be present!”, I started with something much smaller and appealing. For example, I would try and focus for a minute while drinking a cup of coffee, getting dressed, or taking a shower.
Here’s something you might try yourself.
The Orange Meditation
The "Orange Meditation", from Thich Nhat Hahn's “Your True Home”, captures how you can transform the simple act of eating an orange into something altogether different.
“Take the time to eat an orange in mindfulness. If you eat an orange in forgetfulness, caught in your anxiety and sorrow, the orange is not really there. But if you bring your mind and body together to produce true presence, you can see that the orange is a miracle.
Peel the orange. Smell the fruit. See the orange blossoms in the orange, and the rain and the sun that have gone through the orange blossoms. The orange has taken several months to bring this wonder to you. Put a section in your mouth, close your mouth mindfully, and with mindfulness feel the juice coming out of the orange. Taste the sweetness.
Do you have the time to do so? If you don’t think you have time to eat an orange like this, what are you using that time for? Are you using your time to worry, or using your time to live?”
Try it yourself. Pick one of your 90,000 gestures and, whatever that one thing is, do it with your full attention to unlock the miracle within that seemingly mundane moment.
Don’t hurry through life, racing to get to the end. Don’t wait till you lose something to appreciate what you used to have. Take a simple step now. Start living your life and each and every moment in it.