My chest felt constricted, my breath was fast and shallow, I was only 1.5 miles into my run, but my body was tired and I wanted to stop. For 30 seconds, I let myself walk and regain my strength. I ran the first mile too quickly and was now paying the price. It was morning in the park, there were no cars to be heard or seen and I watched as the birds flew overhead. I felt the sun’s warmth as it came down on my face. As I picked up the pace, I paid attention to my stride, my breath. My attention shifted to the geese as they socialized by the stream. There were dozens of them.
I ran up the hill to the lake. Even at this early hour, there were dozens of fisherman in their canoes. I stopped to observe the ducks and geese as they sailed by. I smiled as two beautiful cranes swam in sync with one another. I watched as a dragonfly rested her body, and sent ripples from her wings as they touched the water. I was there, fully present, absorbing the moment in all of its beauty. It was peaceful, and fleeting. My attention turned to the voices passing by, the bicycle tires hitting the trail, and my phone as it lit up with messages. The family would be back soon. The moment passed. I jogged on.
I am usually distracted with everyday life. My mind spins a million miles a minute as I try to get everything done. I think about the future; a presentation to prepare, a dinner menu to plan, a project to complete. I think about the past; yesterday’s meeting, a memory of a friend, a concerning comment. Rarely am I aware of the present moment as my mind flips between these thoughts of past and future. Sometimes I am so distracted, I realize the kids have called my name 3 or 4 times before I actually respond.
Even after 8 years of meditation, I still find that remaining in the present moment is one of the hardest things to do on a regular basis. In an effort to be more present, I left my cell phone in the car and ran in to Starbucks for some coffee. I observed people sitting, talking, laughing; simply enjoying the morning. A constant stream of patrons walked in and out of the store; checking their phones, impatiently waiting for their order. They were going about their day as they normally do, but today was different, today I noticed.
The barista prepared drinks behind the counter. She wasn’t her normal self; no smile, no make-up, no greeting. Concerned, I waited for her to look up, so I could say hello. She finished my drink and moved on to the next. I walked out the door, coffee in hand, disappointed that I didn’t find an opportunity. As I got into my car, I thought about how if I had been distracted thinking about my day or looking at my phone, I wouldn’t have noticed she was upset, nor would I have been available at all. At the very least, I was aware. I was available, if she needed me.
This thought stayed with me, as it came clear that being available is really an act of compassion. At Starbucks, I simply made myself present, and in doing so, I got myself out of the way. Rather than being stuck in my own head, my “me” centric universe, I shifted my attention to the world around me. Being aware is really the opposite of selfishness. It’s almost like a state of gratitude for what the moment has to offer. You are there to observe and to be open; you are not worried about yourself and what you will receive.
When we are aware, we leave an open space, we welcome possibilities. When we are distracted, we are closed off and unsettled. We are either thinking, seeking, desiring, craving, fixing, or planning. It’s active discontentment. If you are unsettled, your cup is empty; you distract and busy yourself with actions to fill it. But if your cup is full, you have nothing left to seek. You are already fulfilled. Your mind can just stop, be aware, be present, and be available.
I think contentment only comes about when we start practicing gratitude. Right now, no matter what is going on in your life, if you can find gratitude, then you will find happiness. For example, if you are reading this right now, then you have a home, or at least a place to kick up your feet and read this. You must be educated, and you’re probably living in a developed country. If you are reading this right now, that means that you either have a phone or a computer, which means you have the money to buy these things, and you aren’t struggling to meet your basic needs. You are blessed.
Really, we are all blessed enough and when we arrive at this realization of “enough”, we will be happy. Maybe it will come about when we stop looking at the world with what it has to offer us and start thinking about what we can offer it. According to the Global Rich List, you are probably richer than 96% of the humans that inhabit this planet. (Click on the link; type in your income and find out) You live during one of the most privileged times in the history of the universe, as you scan the internet, and benefit from the information waiting at your fingertips. If you have all of these things, then you must be one of the luckiest people to have ever walked on the planet. So, what are you doing with all of this good fortune?
We have so much to be thankful for already and (guaranteed) we can find others worse off, who are in need of our help and support. Isn’t it time to stop distracting ourselves with thoughts of “me” and start distracting ourselves with thoughts of how we can help others to be happier and healthier?
If that’s too hard to do right now, because you have serious challenges going on in your life, then just relax and think of all of those things that you do have to be thankful for. There are so many things when you really think about it.
At the very least, if nothing else, try to practice awareness and exist in the present moment; it’s really one of the most selfless things you can do.
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. ~Dalai Lama