“Organizing your life around trying to become happier, making happiness the primary objective of life, gets in the way of actually becoming happy.” Todd Kashdan
As 2016 draws to an end, I sit ponderously, wondering what to say to you. In terms of the world at large, it has been a year of momentus change and ongoing uncertainty. In terms of my personal world, I, and everyone I love is one year older. One year closer to the ultimate transition; death. This may sound morbid. Why contemplate death on the verge of a new year? Shouldn’t I be coaching you to engage with more mindfulness practices? To book on my graduate courses? What feels true is this chant from Zen master Dogen:
‘Life and death are of supreme importance.
Life is fleeting and opportunity is lost.
Do not squander your life.’
I visited a dear friend at a hospice today. The motto emblazoned on all of their publicity is ‘Living each moment.’ Do we need to get so close to death before we wake up to what life has to offer? In this very moment. Those of you who practice mindfulness meditation know that this is not necessary. Through regular practice, both formally and informally, you can consciously and intentionally wake up while you are alive!
There is something enlivening about recognising that time, life, is finite. This beating heart, these breathing lungs, will stop. Mary Oliver’s question arises, ‘What is it you plan to do, with your one, wild and precious life?’ The ‘doing’ in question isn’t necessarily about doing more, being more, getting more productive, having more… living the dream. We are not human doings. We are human beings. It’s about the quality of life lived now. Poet Oriah Mountain Dreamer puts it this way:
‘What if becoming who and what we truly are happens not through striving and trying
But by recognizing and receiving the people, the places and the practices
That are for us the warmth of encouragement we need to unfold?
How would this shape the choices you make about how you spend today?’
What might it be like on the verge of a new year, to count your blessings? To acknowledge what has gone well in your life in this last year. It doesn’t have to be grand, it can be quite ordinary, right in front of your face, “I am grateful for the roof over my head.” You might also acknowledge your good qualities. What small acts of kindness might you have done this last year? How have you embodied patience, kindness, love or generosity as you have made your way in this world. As you do this, you might notice any physical or emotional sensations in the body. Really allow yourself to experience, and feel into your response. You might notice the familiar clamour of thoughts about what you could be doing, should be doing, should be. Notice these, and redirect the mind towards what is going well.
On the verge of 2017, when so much is awry with the world. What might it be like to, instead of thinking about more, think about enough? This invites a radical way of being. It’s a form of freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of more. It is anti-consumerist. We don’t need anything. We don’t need to become anything. We are enough, just as we are. Living in this way not only nourishes our quality of life, it also contributes to a sustainable way of living. For ourselves, and for our planet.
‘…what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.’