EXCERPT FROM ’21 DAYS OF LIVING MINDFULLY’ MY FORTHCOMING BOOK.
“Look to this day for it is life; the very best of life.
In its brief course lie all the realities and truth of existence –
For yesterday is but a memory,
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.”
~Ancient Sanskrit Hymn
I remember the day as if it were yesterday: I woke at dawn and tiptoed out of my grandparents’ Connecticut home, walking gently across dew covered grass to my favorite place on their estate: the spot under the tall trees where an old metal faucet leaked, dripping onto the ground, creating a bowl of mud just toe distance from the edge. There I would sit and squish my toes in that mud, feeling the warmth of the summer day coming on, looking up at the bright blue sky and smelling my grandfather’s bright pink petunias. Life was good. No – life was great!
Can any of you relate? Do you have a memory of a childhood delight that, if you just imagined, you could relive? Does the journey seem long, from then to now? Sometimes it does for me. The simple pleasures of childhood, at times, seem impossible to relive. What has happened? Why is it so difficult to enjoy the moment, taking in the splendor of ‘now’ and letting that be enough? What would it take to live differently – with awareness, acceptance and appreciation for each moment we are given?
Our culture is one of “automatic pilot”: in today’s world, we mindlessly head for a future that is not here yet or often propel ourselves back to a past that has already occurred. The problem with this style of living is not that the future or the past is undesirable to think about but in doing so…in spending time longing for a certain future or grieving over a past that we can’t change…we are robbing ourselves of the ability to be fully present in the only moment any of us will ever have: this moment.
What is Living Mindfully?
Living mindfully is a loving, wholehearted invitation to embrace all of life in a new and more intimate way. It is about slowing down and looking at life without judgment or criticism. It is about being vulnerable, authentic and true to ourselves. It is an opportunity to, once and for all, learn to let go of concepts, ideas and opinions that keep us grasping for something other than ‘what is’ and to cultivate mindfulness and mindful living: to wake up and live in harmony with oneself and the world. Most of all, mindful living is being in touch – being fully present and opening ourselves to living in acceptance, gratitude and love.
Living mindfully is being aware of what emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, accepting things as they are. What things? Anything! Especially those parts of our life we tend to take for granted or would rather dismiss and ignore. Mindfulness means paying attention in a new way to all that is present. The quality of our awareness shifts to one of acceptance and non-judgment as we begin to embrace life as it actually is in any given moment. We are invited, then, to improve the quality of our lives by first accepting and honoring what is here, now, and then living from our larger self, already in profound relationship with all that is.
Mindful living is step-by-step – day-by-day: there is no rush and very little to learn, actually. Mindful living is, instead, about remembering what we have forgotten regarding what is of value to us and living as if our lives really mattered…moment by moment. It could be said that three basic elements form the building blocks of a mindful life:
When we cultivate a mindful life, we can be more aware of present reality and the choices available to us. We learn to take action from awareness rather than being lost in thought. In this way, intentional living becomes possible and wise choice making becomes the outcome.
Mindful living focuses on the present moment. We learn, as we cultivate a mindful life, that ruminating about the past or imagining the future takes us away from the present and from direct sensory experience. Our intention is to be grounded in the present moment, not the past or the future. In this way, we are able to experience our lives fully.
Adopting an attitude of non-judgment allows us to see things as they actually are and to “allow” things to be so. This is not to be confused with having to “like” things as they are. Rather, it is a matter of acceptance and noticing how we think and feel and what we sense in response to our experience.
Mindful living is paying attention in a special way – in a more wise way – and with the whole mind and heart, utilizing all of our resources and being aware of all of our senses. In short, to cultivate a mindful life, we are, hopefully, drawn out of our regular pattern of living where we are constantly distracted and diverted from our deepest intentions and purpose – into spaciousness and clarity of awareness that opens us to whatever is going on. We may feel pulled by the same familiar urges but we become, with mindful living and practice, able to return to our center and pause, responding rather than “reacting” mindlessly.
Mindful living offers a particular attitude toward experience – a way of relating to life that can both alleviate our suffering and make our lives rich and full of meaning. With mindfulness, we are able to cultivate attunement to our moment-to-moment experiences and develop clarity and insight into how our minds operate and how they can create misery. We will soon discover that is it not the happening itself but how we are thinking about the happening that causes distress. By helping us observe exactly how we create this distress, mindfulness practices teach us how to let go of painful mental habits and replace them with more skillful and loving ones.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn states: “Just taking this kind of stance toward our own experience, without trying to fix or change things at all, is an act of generosity toward oneself, an act of intelligence, an act of kindness.”
Living mindfully offers us the opportunity to open to a life fully lived…in awareness and with acceptance, compassion and fulfillment. We become truly alive and live our lives with authenticity and joy – and hopefully with more generosity, intelligence and kindness. One person can make a difference! In a time of stress and striving, living a mindful life makes it possible to become a healing presence for ourselves, our relationships and our world.