“I could have done more.”
No person should ever have this regret at any point in life, especially in the later years. Not one of us should feel pangs of remorse for time lost, things not done, opportunities foregone, chances not taken. While we still could. But didn’t.
I am not a philosopher. Or an enlightened soul. I do not understand why I have come into this world; I do not know what will happen to me after I die. The only thing I know for certain is that I am alive. And that I want to make the most of my time on earth, that I want to lead a life that is meaningful. So that later when I look back, I can truthfully say to myself, “I made the most of my life.”
Life is a collection of days. And every single day is important. What we do each day, little by little, shapes our life. And we need to do as Robin Williams famously says as the English teacher in the 1989 American film Dead Poets Society: Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys! Make your lives extraordinary!
Yes. Every day matters. Every moment counts. Because it is only right here, right now, that things get done. The past is long gone, the future is yet to come… Only the present exists. The present is in our hands, the present is all that matters, and soon… the present too shall pass.
So then why do we spend so much time of the day lost in our thoughts? When our body works on autopilot? When life passes by in a haze?
For instance, did you note, as you made your way to work today, the freshness in the air after last night’s rain ? The lilies bordering the sidewalk? The trees dappling orange gold in the evening sun? The happy laughter of the kid next door?
This autopilot mode when we go about the day’s work unaware of the present is what Psychology Professor Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University calls ‘mindless moments,’ moments when one is so trapped in thoughts that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what is happening right now. When we become a victim of time and our mind is everywhere but ‘here.’ When our thoughts are on what has been/could have been or what can be/will be. And we become so mindless, Dr Langer explains, we stop paying attention to things around us.
Can one enjoy the weekend if our mind is already thinking about Monday? Or laugh gaily with a friend if we keep remembering how she let us down last year?
Whereas we need to do the opposite. Because only when we are engaged with the external world and its sights, sounds and smells, and pay attention, at the same time, to our innermost thoughts, feelings and sensations, can we enjoy what is happening NOW. Only then can we hope to find happiness in life.
A profound concept. But difficult to follow as our monkey mind vaults from thought to thought constantly. And we have to wrench it to remain focussed in the present. So that we can enjoy every moment, relish it, savor it, luxuriate in it, delight in it.
Only when we let go and lose ourselves in the moment, can we enjoy it. See how it relaxes us, how woes and worries melt away, how uncertainties and insecurities disappear, how self-esteem and confidence return, and we can interact with others positively and productively.
Life in the moment moves quickly — and I try not to miss it. I try to pay attention to the ordinary things around me. I try to stay focussed on the task at hand. Consciously. With total involvement.
When I wake up, I peep out and take in the dewiness of the morning; as I walk in the park, I direct my attention to the loosening of my back and stretch in my muscles; as I hold my tea, I note the warmth seeping in from the cup; as I cook, I keep my thoughts trained on the cutting, chopping, stirring and serving; when I bite into my sandwich, I feel its texture and savor its flavor; when I write, I block off all external sounds and focus on translating my thoughts into words… When I notice my mind wandering, I repeat to myself, “Now. Now. Now.” And pull myself back.
And I try to carry this mindfulness through the day while watching my daily sitcom or listening to music or discussing plans with others or playing with our golden retriever or shopping or simply relaxing. I go along with the experiences ~ pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad ~ simply because that is what is present, that is all there is, nothing else.
And when I lie down at night, I let go completely. I feel my body sinking into the mattress and appreciate how good it feels. I breathe deeply. And realize that all the happiness is right here, right now, in the present moment. I tell myself: Today was a day well-spent. Tomorrow will be a new day, a day when I can do as much, when I can do MORE.