I was sitting in the small restaurant. Alone. Quiet. Not listening to music or a podcast. Not staring at my phone. Rather I was looking out the plate glass windows. The weather was gray and gusty as one would expect of a December day in Chicago. People not dressed warmly enough, usually the younger people, walked quickly with hunched shoulders. The ones with hats and scarves, usually the older people, more often strolled as if engaged in a morning constitutional.
I felt good. Relaxed. Released to my freely roaming thoughts.
I had been stuck at home for the previous two days. My wife was out of town with my middle daughter and I was watching my son sick from school. This morning I was free to move about and moving about is what I like to do best. I would not do well in prison or on a cruise ship.
Left to my thoughts, I was struck anew by the realization that life is made up of these building blocks of millions of moments, one flowing into the next.
It made me wistful to consider my relationship to the moments of my life. How do I experience each of them? Am I simply oblivious to their existence? Do I experience each moment as nothing more than a blank stage upon which my thoughts, feelings, actions, and interactions with others play out? If so, then it seemed my experience of comfort and happiness versus stress and upset is dependent on what occurs within that moment.
I didn’t like this idea. It seemed to place a burden upon me that I didn’t wish to accept: I did not want my happiness to be predicated upon doing pleasant or happy things. I wanted to derive enjoyment from simple awareness and appreciation of and immersion into the moments of my life, and I wanted this to be the foundation of a happy life. On my grave let it be said, “Here lies a man who appreciated his moments.”
Why can’t I experience each moment in and of itself as having a positive valence, I thought. Why can’t I be aware of each moment’s unique identity and inherent beauty? Why can’t a person, doing nothing in particular or nothing at all, enjoy life by enjoying the moments that make up that life?
Well the answer is, of course, that this awareness, appreciation, and immersion in the current moment is possible and, if even partially achieved, can lead to increased satisfaction, calm, and, I think, creativity.
I’ve been describing benefits of mindfulness, of course, without using that term. I don’t use the word mindfulness if I can avoid it because, for me, it doesn’t resonate; it’s seems overly general and without a clear referent. Other people, including our patients, may not be interested in learning about or engaging in mindfulness practices because mindfulness or meditation seems only for those people who eat pizza with arugula and goat cheese, and order soy lattes. (I do the former but not the latter BTW.) I prefer the word awareness.
So, since the New Year is almost upon us, one of my resolutions is to cultivate increased awareness of each of my moments. To remind myself to look ahead when walking, and attend to what is around me through all my senses. To inhale and gently expand my chest when I encounter someone as a physical reminder to “take them in,” to listen to and observe them more closely, and to … well, appreciate them more fully.
I’ll let you know how I do. And, feel free to let me know what you’ll be up to.
Until next time,
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”
– David Foster Wallace
“The outer world is a reflection of the inner world. Other people’s perception of you is a reflection of them; your response to them is an awareness of you.”
– Roy T. Bennett