When the turbulence of our mental busyness subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness naturally arises within.(1)
The evening was perfect. I put on my hiking shoes and the dog danced eagerly as I fastened her collar. We headed out for our evening walk to enjoy what promised to be a glorious sunset. It was seventy-eight degrees and the breeze was warm and gentle. The only sounds were the evening settling chatter of the birds and the crunch of my shoes on the trail. Our closest neighbor was over one mile away. What a heavenly evening in the Sonoran desert.
The first impulse to grab my phone arrived precisely two minutes into our walk. I paused with my hand on my back pocket.
“No need to capture. Just enjoy,” my inner wisdom whispered. We walked on.
Shortly I found myself reaching for my phone again as I remembered I had neglected to return a friend’s call a few hours earlier.
“Nope, it can wait,” I assured myself and wrestled my hand away from my back pocket.
We climbed the last few steps to the crest of a small mesa that afforded a spectacular 360 degree view of three mountain ranges, the setting sun and the 21,000 acre park we call home in the winter. I sat down on a rock and took in the vista, breathing deeply and slowly in an effort to calm my heart rate after the climb. The evening light brushed the mountains with a changing palette — first coral, then pink, then purple, then blue. What a gift, this moment, this view, this life!
And there went my hand again, reaching for my phone, this time to text two friends with whom I studied meditation, certain that it was imperative to share this moment with them. Right then. Had to!
“No, no, no! This is madness,” I gently chastised. I took a breath and with a slow exhalation whispered, “Be here now, Elizabeth. Be. Here. Now.”
I was suddenly and acutely aware that this moment was a gift. Its value would not be determined by the number Facebook ‘Likes’ or the fact that I shared a photo of it with a friend across the country. This moment needed no outside validation. Nor did I, I reminded myself, despite my habitual need to somehow capture it all and offer it up for public consumption.
I took a breath, feeling the breath fill my lungs, the wave reaching for the heart and cresting there. The wave slowly receded and washed in again. With each breath I came back to myself and settled further into the moment.
The minutes that followed will not soon be forgotten, both supremely simple and exquisitely textured. Breath. Light. Body. Color. Breeze. Mountains. Quiet. Creatures. Expansive. Contentedness. Beauty. Connectedness. Joy. I waded deeply into my experience, feeling gently woven into it with each breath. A far different experience than simply waiting for the best photo angle and plotting a caption.
In the Meditation and Mindfulness class I teach, we dig deeply into the value of being mindfully present to life and the tools that support mindful living. We also talk about the cost of not being present to our lives. We talk at length about the ways in which we pay a hefty toll for our persistent busyness, multi-tasking and distractedness. The list of the ways we incur these costs is long but here are just a few items to consider:
Personal Safety and Physical Well-Being. The price of distractedness to our personal safety and well-being is no laughing matter. Have you ever tripped or sustained injury (or, heaven forbid, injured someone else) because you were not paying attention or your mind was elsewhere?
Mentally. Distraction, ruminating on the past or anticipating the ‘what-if’ of the future all create anxiety, stress, even depression and cognitive diminishment.
Relationships. The loneliest place in the world can be just a few feet away from the one you love, when their phone or tablet is immensely more important than what you just said.
Your life. When we are not present to life, it passes us by, a gift unopened.
Next time you reach for the mobile device to capture or share, pause for a moment. Consider your motivation. Will the moment still matter if you don’t try to capture it, if you do not publicly share it? Take a deep breath. Take another. Look around. Gaze deeply. Breathe. Ponder. Be still. Be present to your life, the joys and the difficulties. Be in this moment and receive the gift inherent in the Now.
Please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with sharing, friends, not a doggone thing. At the same time, don’t let your sharing become a two-dimensional substitute for a full experience of the wonder, the joy, the beauty and the mystery within and around you. I’ll work on this too.
Photo by Lisa Wojtysiak, April 2016
(1) Introduction to Buddhism, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso