The other day I went into a local luncheon restaurant and ordered a cup of coffee and toasted bagel with cream cheese. The young waitress smiled pleasantly and said, "Ooooh, I get happier as the time gets closer to 1:00 PM." I was tempted to get into a short conversation with her about this but quickly surmised that she would react as though I was preaching to her and I did not want that. However, this little interaction gave me pause for some thinking. After all, I said to myself, how often do all of us engage in the same style of thinking as the young woman?
Aren't we all guilty of wishing our lives away without stopping to think about it? At work, we watch the clock for the end of the day. We count the months and days until vacation. We hurry to wash the dishes so we can see our favorite television program. We convince ourselves that real life will begin once we reach retirement age.
Of course, the reverse of this also happens. How often do we engage in feelings and thoughts of self pity about the past. How often do we find ourselves making such statements as, "if only I had done this or that," or, "If only I this event or that event had not happened," or, "life has never been fair to me." In other words, we "cry over spilled milk."
This way of thinking is a serious problem for the simple reason that none of us can guarantee that tomorrow will come and we cannot change the past. My intent is not to be dark and cynical here. Quite to the contrary, my intent is to communicate the concept of embracing and living life to the fullest. The fact that life is fragile because we never really know what may happen next means that we need to begin living in the present moment. Yes, we each of us have our past lives and each of us makes plans for tomorrow, next month and next year. However, we overlook now.
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In my opinion, the great Buddhist teacher and expert on mindfulness and meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, expressed it best when he stressed the importance of focusing on this moment because once this moment is gone we will never have it again. I highly recommend his many books for their simplicity and great wisdom about how to live our lives. Just do an Internet search for him. Another teacher is our American John Kabbat-Zinn.
One of the most effective and self destructive ways for us to destroy now is to be a work-a-holic. This is also referred to as a "Type A Personality" who runs from task to task never coming up from work to inhale and smell the fresh air. In the end, it is a heart attack to awaken these people, if they are lucky enough to survive.
Are you mindful of your life and body? Do you take time to smell the roses? Do you live in the moment or dwell on the past while waiting for tomorrow?
Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD
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