Chapter 1: YOUR QUEST FOR HAPPINESS
First I was dying to finish high school and start college.
And then I was dying to finish college and start working.
And then I was dying to marry and have children.
And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work.
And then I was dying to retire.
And now, I am dying...and suddenly I realize I forgot to live."
This is a book about the real moments that make life matter, and how to have more of them. It is about experiencing fulfillment and meaning in your life now, not when you have more money, or find the right partner, or achieve your perfect weight, but in this and every moment. It is about how to rediscover real moments with your mate and your children, real moments with your work and your play, and, most of all, real moments with yourself.
All of my previous books have been about the relationships men and women have with one another. Real Moments is about the relationship we have with the process of living itself, and the peace many of us have been searching for, whether we're aware of it or not.
Look honestly at your own life. Are your days and nights spent doing things that are meaningful and make you smile? Or do you spend the majority of your time doing things that give you back the smallest percentage of joy? When your life is over, will you wish you had spent your time differently? If you had only one month to live, what would you change?
Look deeply into your own heart. Are you happy? Is there something you think needs to happen before you can be happy? Are you sure that if that something occurred, you would truly be happy then? Would it be enough?
Look closely at the values of your spirit. If you suddenly died tomorrow, and you looked back on your life, what moments would you cherish the most? What would you miss the most about your time on earth?
In writing this book, I offer you an opportunity to begin finding the answers to these questions for yourself as I have been doing for myself. I believe that asking ourselves these questions is very important. It forces us to stop living our lives mechanically and unconsciously, and demands that we pay attention.
There's a famous Zen story about the student who approaches his Master and asks him to share some words of wisdom about life. The Master looks intently at the anxious disciple for a moment, and then writes one word with his brush: "Attention." The disciple is confused, and nervously asks the Master to elaborate and the Master writes again: "Attention." By this time, the young student is beside himself with frustrationhe can't figure out what his teacher is trying to tell him. And once more the Master patiently writes: ATTENTION ...ATTENTION ...ATTENTION
Paying, attention to the moments in your life as they unfold is what having real moments means,
moments when you are fully present, fully feeling, fully alive.
Sometimes they will be moments of great happiness. Sometimes they will be moments of profound sorrow. But always, when you pay attention to where you are and what is going on, right now, you will experience a moment that has meaning, a moment that matters, and that is what I call a real moment.
"I find the question 'WHY ARE WE HERE?' typically human. I'd suggest 'ARE WE HERE?' would be the more logical choice..."
LEONARD NIMOY, Mr. Spock in Star Trek
Are you fully here, right now, reading this sentence? Or are you reading and thinking about the work you should be doing, or what you're going to have for dinner? Are you kind of reading, but also worrying about the argument you had with your lover last night, or whether the guy you just met will call and ask you out? Most of us are not very good at giving all of our attention to whatever activity we're involved in, at surrendering fully to the experience of the moment. Having real moments is difficult when we spend so much time NOT being in the present, for part of what makes a real moment so powerful, so fulfilling, is that you are experiencing it one hundred percent.
Another term for this is "mindfulness." Mindfulness is a concept that is an integral part of many Eastern spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism. Simply put, it means to pay complete attention to whatever you're doing, to allow your "mind to befall" of the experience.
Mindfulness delivers you fully into the moment. It can turn an ordinary experience like taking a walk, putting your child to bed, holding your partner close, or even driving your car into a real moment. When you are being mindful, your intention is to fully experience where you are and what you are doing, rather than to have what you're doing now be another passing, forgettable moment which comes after what you just did, and before what you're about to do. Later in this book I'll share some tools for living more mindfully
The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, to do things without thinking, without feeling, automatically and unconsciously. I believe that it is our mindlessness that causes much of our suffering and the suffering of those around us:
* Mindlessness is what allows you to stay in a relationship that isn't nourishing you, and may even be harming you, and not notice how miserable you are.
* Mindlessness is what allows you to ignore messages your body is trying to give you when it has chronic indigestion or heartburn, and, instead, to pop an antacid into your mouth, until one day years later the doctor diagnoses you with a serious disease.
* Mindlessness is what allows you to smoke, or drink, or do drugs, and not notice, in spite of your chronic cough, your emotional inconsistency, or your mental ups and downs, that you are slowly killing yourself and hurting the people you love.
* Mindlessness is what allows you to know that there is injustice and cruelty occurring in the world around you, but not to speak out against it or do anything to stop it.
Mindlessness is an unhealthy mental habit many of us suffer from too much of the time. When we live our lives mindlessly, we miss all of the real moments. Psychology professor Ellen Langer, who writes about mindfulness, says people who live and act mindlessly run the risk of "being trapped in unlived lives." We move through our days, months, and years, focusing not on where we are, but on where we are going, and then wonder why we never feel we arrive anywhere that brings us lasting fulfillment.