Everyone has the choice to enjoy every single day as it comes. No matter how you’re feeling or what your circumstances are; no matter what has happened or what is happening in the immediate future or immediate past, as a human being, you have the privilege to make the choice to appreciate the present moment.
When I was about 16 years old, I realized that I could make a choice at any given moment that would determine whether I was content or unhappy. If I made the right choice, I would be absolutely content with myself and my surroundings no matter what. If I made the wrong choice, each moment of anger and misfortune would be compounded on one another as the day went on. I would be more prone to hurting myself, breaking things, making mistakes, etc. I never really knew what the “choice” was, or how to define it but, with practice, I knew that it was as easy as flipping a switch.
I stood in the parking lot this morning stretching in the cool morning mist, as I like to do after the commute to the office, and as I took a nice long breath of fresh air, a van came careening into the parking lot and pulled into a spot right beside me. Even thought there was no one else in the parking lot, the van still missed the spot and had to pull out and pull back in. Then I listened as the front bumper crunched up onto the curb and was dragged off when the driver pulled back.
He got out of the car and shook his head, saying to me “It’s gonna be one of those days, isn’t it?” Then proceeded to walk quickly toward the building with his briefcase in hand and head down at the sidewalk. He walked past this:
Had he not noticed what a gorgeous morning it was? What was he thinking about so hard that took his attention so far away from his surroundings (not to mention his driving…)? Always thinking about the previous mishap, misfortune, or feeling, he was never present enough to prevent the next. I can imagine what kind of a day he is having today (although I’d rather not).
To this day, I continue to practice flipping this switch. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but it comes more easily every day. And I can often see this turning point in others’ days as well. A point at which, if they closed their eyes, wiped the chalkboard clean of all the past misfortune and anguish, took out a fresh piece of chalk and opened their eyes, that they would be able to start fresh from this moment on.
It is man’s natural state to be content, it requires only attentiveness.
Commonly, people pose the question: "What would I do if I had only 1 day left to live?" Answers are generally comprised of places they would go, things they would accomplish, and people they would visit. This is a good way to help you understand the things and people that are really important to you.
Imagine now, that I told you that you have only 30 seconds left to live...
I'd like you to actually put yourself in this situation now. You're sitting right where you're sitting now and wearing whatever you're wearing when you read this. And you're all alone; at least more than 30 seconds away from any other human being. Savor this moment.
What do you do with your last 25 seconds on earth?.... Do you make one last phone call? How do you decide who to call? And by the time you decide, is it worth calling? What do you say, and will you be gone before you can say it? Savor this moment.
How many things can you actually do in 20 seconds of life? Do you retrieve a favorite memory or look ahead at your unfound goals? Which memories / goals to you choose to relish? Savor this moment.
You only have 15 seconds left now. Do you panic in fear of the actual sensation of death or do you revel in the glory that was your life? Savor this moment.
Death is only 10 seconds away and what have you done with the last 20 seconds? Have you made the best possible use of them? If only you had more time to decide what to do... Take a look around. Use your eyes. Use your ears. Look at your hands. Savor this moment.
Take a deep breath of fresh air, you have 5 seconds to live. Do you realize your own human impermanence? Does all of the worry and dischord in your life seem distant? None of it means anything anymore. What does it feel like to be wearing this skin you've been wearing for so many years? Savor this moment.
You have one second to live. What does being alive feel like? Savor this moment.
Wait, you're still alive! Keep reading!
In Bushido, the philosophy of the Samurai, death is always imminent. They lived their lives as if each moment could be the last, savoring every step of the journey and always putting their best foot forward, whether it be on the battlefield or training ground, or playing with their children or drinking tea. Death is held in the highest regard and is never forgotten by the Samurai. All the moments in our lives lead up to it.
This exercise can help you gain a better understanding of the intrinsic nature of your human being-ness. Not really having enough time to prepare for imminence, every moment must be lived completely. What would change about your life if every 30 seconds was your last?
Do you commute to and from work every day listening to the radio or spacing off thinking about useless things? I was on my way home from work the other day and I approached a turn trying to guess how many times I had made the turn. It was far more than I wanted to admit, so I shut off my blinker and kept going straight. It was a road I hadn't travelled before; I'd never had a reason to. And as soon as I strayed from my normal route my eyes and ears awoke to new sights and sounds that weren't necessarily awe-inspiring, but they were new and different. And the turns I made were new as well; they weren't a part of my muscle memory. I instantly starting paying more attention to my driving and became more aware of the things around me.
I saw some kids playing by the road whom I'd never seen before, and I drove by an old barn that looked like it would make a great martial arts school for when I am ready to open my school. This got me thinking about what the school will be like, and all of the details that I love to daydream about anyway.
I only drove a couple miles down the road, turned around in a driveway and headed back home, but it made such an impact in my commute to have discovered a new part of the world, and also to have triggered new thought patterns about my future martial arts school plans.
The point is: Do something different. If you've become complacent with anything in your life, mix it up a bit. Give your mind something new to think about. A new perspective can awaken new thought patterns and stir up mental and physical energy in a very healthy way.
Life is an incredible platform for existence. Every day we meander through our lives at slower or faster paces performing hundreds, even thousands, of tasks that are completely second nature to us and require no conscious thought. This is an incredible capacity and should be wholly appreciated.
People who teach meditation and life improving techniques often discuss awareness. Practitioners are encouraged to meditate on their breathing, their sitting, their walking, their immediate physical surroundings, etc. These awareness meditations can have a profound mental, physical and spiritual effect on a practitioner. However, it can be difficult to comprehend the intention of these exercises. It’s a foreign, ambiguous concept for most people to “be fully aware” and I think it is often misunderstood or misconstrued.
Reduce the learned simplicity of tasks
Here’s a different method to raise your awareness in a more physical, understandable way. Take for example talking on the phone, flipping a light switch, handing someone money, drinking tea, using utensils… etc. These are tasks that you’re probably not very well aware of because you learned to do them at such a young age and have become complacent in doing them.
Today try performing all of these simple tasks with your left hand. Performing these tasks with the left hand will bring you back to the time of your youth when you were still learning coordination and everything was a new experience. Things like dialing the phone, eating, and using a computer mouse took more concentration on the task at hand and, therefore, gave you more awareness of what you were doing. Try this and let me know how it feels!
How was your day?
What did you do today?
What was your favorite part of today?
Were time and life both pleasant in their passing today?
How exciting were the events in your life today?
Was your day as awesome as mine was?
Asking the above questions all basically have the same intention, it's an inquiry about someone's day. But they elicit completely different answers and more critical thinking on the part of the responder. “How was your day?” is such a commonplace question that not much thought really goes into answering it, and there’s a good likelihood that you will get a pretty quick, pretty generic answer. Whereas if you were to offer a more thought provoking question, the answer might take a few more seconds and might be a bit more pensive. Trust me, you will get some strange looks from time to time, but someone having been asked a question will generally try to give an answer.
Another benefit of asking generally unasked questions is that you can come across as asking about someone’s day while implying that something positive should be included in the answer. For instance, “Was your day as good as mine?” is infinitely more positive and healthy to ask than “Did your day suck as much as mine?” Essentially it is the same question, but the implication is very different. Each question exudes a feeling of positivity or negativity, respectively and gets the answering party thinking in one direction or another.
This is also a great way to test your vocabulary and grammar skills. By conjugating sentences that are carefully crafted to elicit certain responses, the questioner must be more diligent about wording.
What are some questions you can use to replace the commonplace everyday questions you might use now?