“Where is it that you are going?”
This question, juxtaposed with Nic Askews‘ film images, carries weight. Given that life is finite, what am I doing with my time? The question pertains to the future i.e. the rest of my life, but also to the choices I make from moment-to-moment. What am I doing right now in this very moment. What choices am I making that will inform how the rest of my day, week, month, years will unfold? Without attending to this question, we can easily be carried along on the socio/cultural tide of getting somewhere, being someone, and doing something. Before we know it our lives are spent. In that penultimate moment before death, if we are one of the privilidged few that experiences such a moment, what kind of life will we look back on?
Of course it is not the case that we shouldn’t strive to create fulfilling relationships, home life, work, these are tremendously important aspects of our lives. The problems arise when this striving takes over, and we become human doings, rather than human beings. How many people do you know that leave the house at 8am, and return home at 8pm? The pressures of work, mortgages, bills, careers, family responsibilities combined with a political, economic and social system driven by a paradigm of growth and productivity, can drive us to burn out. A literal burn-out, serious physical or mental health condition, or the break down of relationships and/or loss of a sense of purpose or meaning in life. John Ruskin, nineteenth century art critic and philanthropist asks us:
‘What right have you to take the word ‘wealth’ which originally meant ‘well-being’ and degrade and narrow it by confining it to certain sorts of material objects measured by money.’
What right indeed? How do we measure wealth, and what are the implications of the ways that we measure it, in terms of the ways we spend our time and energy? Does the fact that our society in general measures wealth in terms of money mean that we have to also?
Isn’t this about choice, recognising the choices we do have, to craft a life that is meaningful and fulfilling for us, on terms that we value? Of course in life there are demands, and responsibilities, we may have to do work that is not as we would wish in order to pay the bills. We can however seek out the places where we do have choice. People who attend a mindfulness course learn pretty quickly that the richness and quality of life experience depends to a high degree on how much we are paying attention. This paying attention isn’t something we do just with a brain, although of course that is involved too, but with all of our senses. We come to our senses, (Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks to this beautifully here ),we wake up! We begin to see that in the simply minutia of life there is the possibility of experiencing a sense of abundance, we do not need a lot to appreciate the smile of a stranger, the morning light, the smell of freshly baked bread, a clear winter sky, the texture of a much loved jumper, the love of a family member or friend, bird song, the rush of the family dog to greet one at the door, the gift of a seat on the underground train. There is the much hackneyed, but never the less wise phrase, ‘the best things in life are free’, it’s true isn’t it, love is free, kindness, a smile, the breath, this heart beat keeping me alive, the sky, the trees, all free. How can we disentangle ourselves from the misguided belief that we need more to be happy?
We can give ourselves the gift of time each day, to simply sit with the breath, to pause out of the momentum. This could be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or more. It could be during an allocated time in the morning, just for you, or sitting on the bus or tube on the way into work. We don’t need ideal conditions, however much our minds, or society would have us believe that. We can learn to work with what we have, and in this way find out that what we have is already enough.