It’s a postcard cliché: The beach is gorgeous! Wish you were here… The weather is magnificent! Wish you were here… The skiing is fabulous! Wish you were here… Isn’t everything gorgeous, magnificent and fabulous when we’re off in some exotic locale without any responsibility other than to enjoy ourselves each and every moment of every single day?
It’s easy to “live in the moment” when we’re off on vacation. It’s easy to “live in the now” when everything is new and interesting, carefree and pleasurable. It’s easy to “be present” when where we’re at is just so very enjoyable! Yes, a really good vacation takes our mind far away from the concerns and drudgery of our workaday world. It gives us time and permission to watch the sunset, to walk in the woods, to relax on the beach, to dine in fine restaurants, to take in new sights, or simply to cease our endless doing. But even as our mind is far, far away from our ordinary life, our body is right there with it! We are totally present for our life!
That’s quite the opposite of how we often live – with our body right here and our mind far, far away: Our body is getting a report together, but our mind (a large chunk of it anyway) is thinking about the weekend. Our body is doing the household chores, but our mind is off daydreaming or thinking about how monotonous our work is. Our body is eating lunch, but our mind is thinking about what a jerk so-and-so was. We’re not really “here” for much of our lives, are we?
We wouldn’t really need mindfulness training if we simply lived each moment as if we were on the best vacation we’ve ever had, would we? Unfortunately, ordinary life seems to lack specialness. It tends to seem boring. It’s not always much fun. And so our mind wanders off in order to find something more interesting – and it does. But how is it that our lives lose their specialness in the first place? We’ve only so many moments. Why do we let ourselves fall into the trap of squandering them so willy-nilly?
Talk to someone who’s been brought face-to-face with their own mortality and you’ll likely find someone who has regained an appreciation of the specialness of each moment – no matter how “ordinary” that moment may be. Waiting in line, driving to work, making our way through our inbox, mopping the floor – no matter how mundane the task, we are always the universe observing the universe. Is that not special enough?
Early Buddhists sometimes meditated in the charnel ground, with dead and decaying bodies lying about, in order that they might fully comprehend the impermanent nature of existence. Being in such close proximity to death has a way of focusing the mind. On the other hand, we affluent Westerners have insulated ourselves so completely from death, disease, poverty and hardship that it quite often takes something personally drastic or life-threatening for us to wake up to our reality once again.
It needn’t be this way, however. If we so choose we can live each moment as if we’re away on a great vacation. We just have to slow down and stop running away from our life. We just need to breathe and pay attention. This moment is sublime! Wish you were here!
Lido Beach postcard from the collection of Boston Public Library via:
Copyright 2015 by Mark Frank