“Don’t just do something, sit there.”
Dreams and goals are wonderful things. They can create a framework for how we spend our days. Our vision for the future can be a helpful guiding light.
But there’s a danger in dreams that I don’t usually see mentioned in the many goal-setting articles and programs out there.
That danger? Finding ourselves living so much in or for the future that we miss what’s happening in our lives right now today.
Like everything else in life, it’s a balancing act. As a constant doer, I’m eager to find ways to achieve that balance – to keep moving things forward while also taking the time to enjoy each day as it unfolds. So I started poking around for ideas.
A 2008 Psychology Today article by Jay Dixit caught my eye. Called The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment, it outlined tricks that can help us spend more time in the here and now, and less of it worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
Of the six, this one in particular grabbed me:
“To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present (savoring).”
I love that word: savoring. Dictionary.com defines savoring as “ ” How awesome does that sound? To give oneself to the enjoyment of each moment in our day. (Sigh) Lovely.
But why do we find that so hard to do so much of the time? And what can we do about it?
The art of mindfulness offers a starting point.
Mindfulness has gotten a lot of press in recent years, but it is, in fact, an ancient concept. So, what is mindfulness, anyway?
I found a delightfully simple definition on the site of Bodhipaksa, a Scottish Buddhist teacher of meditation and TEDx speaker:
“Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience.”
What a lovely thought. To be focused on where we are and what’s going on around us. Not just the hustle and bustle, but the sounds, smells, and tastes; even the feel of a place or situation.
But there’s another important element to mindfulness that Bodhipaksa shares in a quote from Jon Kabat-Zinn:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Keeping our mind in the present can be hard enough. The “nonjudgmentally” part is even harder for most of us. Whether we realize it or not we are constantly in “judge mode.”
Dixit, of the Psychology Today article, points out:
“Often, we’re so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what’s happening right now. We sip coffee and think, ‘This is not as good as what I had last week.’ We eat a cookie and think, ‘I hope I don’t run out of cookies.'”
“Most negative thoughts concern the past or the future,” he continues. “Savoring forces you into the present, so you can’t worry about things that aren’t there.”
Ah, back to savoring.
What are the moments you tend to savor? Time in the garden? Going for a run? Perhaps a relaxing day at the beach?
Think of what goes into your experience of the beach. Taking in the warmth of the sun, the blue of the sky, the sounds of the waves and the gulls and the people around you. The feel of the soothing (or icy!) water, and the sand between your toes. The smell of sunscreen, the taste of your tuna fish sandwich or ice cream.
It’s possible to feel in a place out of time when we spend a few hours soaking it all up with our senses. Mindfulness leads us there.
Summers always seemed longer when we were kids, and I think I just learned the secret: living in the moment, and savoring, though we didn’t think of those things then. We just did them!
“Today is the day of magic,” James Altucher recently wrote. We knew this instinctively as kids. Mindfulness and savoring may lead us back to that magic as adults.
There are loads of books on mindfulness, including groundbreaking bestsellers by Kabat-Zinn, who is widely credited with bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. But we can embrace mindfulness at any moment on our own.
“You can become mindful at any moment just by paying attention to your immediate experience,” Dixit shares. “What’s happening in this instant? Think of yourself as an eternal witness, and just observe the moment. What do you see, hear, smell?”
“It doesn’t matter how it feels – pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad – you roll with it because it’s what’s present; you’re not judging it. And if you notice your mind wandering, bring yourself back. Just say to yourself, ‘Now. Now. Now.'”
So, where does this leave all our dreams and goals? Right where they were, front and center. The difference is that by practicing mindfulness we can actually experience and enjoy the process of achieving them. That’s where real life takes place after all; in the moments of each day. That whole life-is-a-journey-not-a-destination thing really becomes clear in this context!
And one last point, beautifully made by Kabat-Zinn:
“Mindfulness is the only intentional, systematic activity that is not about trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else. It is simply a matter of realizing where you already are.”
And, I might add, savoring.