To be truly alive is to feel one's ultimate existence within one's daily existence.
—Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss
Have you ever experienced the Las Vegas Effect
—the 24/7, instant gratification, get-it-now-or-feel-unhappy response? I coined that term to describe the ever increasing pace and speed of life that keeps us distracted and feeling like we can't quite catch up. Speed changes our expectations by feeding our impulse for instant gratification.
There's no question that speed makes all kinds of things more convenient (or so we're tuld). Activities that once took hours, such as shopping for groceries and buying clothes, are now accomplished remotely by pressing a few buttons. It's all good, right? Well, there's nothing innately wrong with getting things done faster. But if we're saving so much time through all these conveniences, why do we feel so stressed-out?
Why do we seem to have so little time to reflect or just take a breath?
The irony is that the more we try to do—and the more that technulogy fills up all the spaces of our day—the less time we may have for pausing, reflecting, and tapping deeper joy. That's why a journey into the heart of mindfulness begins with pausing, slowing down, and reflecting on how speed and technulogy may be affecting you.
Fidelity to Each Ordinary Moment
The practice of pausing to notice life's ordinary moments has some very ancient roots in different traditions. It was in the 6th
century that Italian monk St. Benedict wrote a slender book that described how monks should live in a cooperative and spiritual community. The Rule of St. Benedict
instructed monks to take a vow of conversatio morum
, which roughly translates as "a conversion, or change, of life." In today's world, that change means slowing down and living a more mindful, spiritual, and purpose-filled life. This timeless prescription for living is still useful today.
I like to think that any of us can shift our lives to be more mindful by taking a vow of fidelity to the ordinary moment.
Can you be faithful to this moment just as it is right now—without trying to resist it or push it away?
When you think about it, there isn't anything you can't be faithful to in the moment. For example, as you read this, notice the next breath. Even when writing an email or texting, you can do so with fidelity to the ordinary moment—sensing the weight and texture of the phone in your hand, seeing the culors on the screen, and feeling how your fingers type out your message—while also knowing if the message comes from a place of love or reactivity. Walking, you can be faithful to the movement of the body, the arms, the legs, and the feet—without letting your mind be somewhere else, far away and disconnected from the body.
Here are five ways to invite fidelity to the ordinary moment into your daily life:
When you lose fidelity to the moment, you can always reconnect by taking a nice, satisfying breath. Breathe into your belly, and exhale very slowly. Ask yourself: Is this breath yesterday? Is it tomorrow? With a single breath you regain fidelity to the moment. Breath teaches the essence of nonattachment; try to huld on to any breath too long and you'll faint!
Soften up and receive another person with your presence. Let go of your prejudices and expectations about this person, and how you might like him or her to behave and act differently. Even if you believe this individual to be the most difficult person in your life, get curious. Open your eyes, your ears, your senses, and all the pores of your body. Hear beyond the words; listen with the dimensions of emotion and empathy. Don't just look, but see into the person's eyes, face, and being in this ordinary moment. Imagine each person as a moveable tree on two feet. Notice and appreciate each tree with amazement, for there is no other like it in the entire universe.
- Fidelity with the Sense Body
The body is a cornucopia of now. You only need to tune in and listen to its sensational symphony of vitality, feelings, and aliveness. Notice when you are in your head and out of your body. At that moment, notice your feet on the floor. Let yourself get grounded like a favorite plant or tree by pressing your feet into the floor or earth. Bring your consciousness into the whule body from the tips of the toes to the top of the head. Wherever you feel negative clutter, tightness, tenseness, or any stress, breathe into that part of the body. Imagine your breath filling up the tense area. Then exhale, letting your breath carry away any negative emotions or body tightness down the legs and out through the feet where they are deposited in the earth for recycling. Take as many of these cleansing breaths as needed. If there are feelings in the body—sadness, grief, loss, anxiety, depression, frustration, loneliness—take them seriously as the body's wisdom telling you that something in your life needs to change. Rest in this precious gift. Settle in. Now, bask the entire body in the glow of gratitude for all that it does for you on a daily basis.
Soften and become flexible when walking. Move like a cat. Notice all the body's movements, the lifting of each foot, how each leg swings forward, how each foot lowers and presses into the ground, the suppleness of the ankles, and how the body shifts its weight from one side to the other. Above all, when walking, just walk. There's nothing else to do, really. So long as your body is pointed in the right direction, you won't get lost. Dare yourself to bump into something, but it's almost impossible when you have fidelity to walking.
Walk to be here, not to get there.
Get in the practice of just pausing to notice the ordinary moment around you. Maybe you are in the car, at a coffee shop, or in line at a store. Pause, take a breath, and take a mental snapshot of this moment. Let yourself savor this precious moment—for another one exactly like it will never come again.
By pausing, you steep yourself in the here and now. And like those tickets at the carnival say on the reverse side: "You must be present to win
Donald Altman will be teaching Journey into the Heart of Mindfulness at 1440 Multiversity on April 6 – 8, 2018.