Every time I have to wash and dry my hair, I think, “This again, already?” Each week when we put out the trash, I ask, “How can it be Friday again, so soon?” Paying the phone bill always makes me think, “How can a month have passed so quickly?” And whenever I celebrate a birthday, I wonder, “Where did the year go?”
Mundane tasks and rituals can be comforting because they provide order to our days and a sense that some things do not change, but they can also be disturbing because they remind us that life seems to be inexorably speeding past, with nothing to slow it down. The fear that time is slipping away, combined with the tediousness of some of our days is enough to bring anyone down.
But, as James Taylor reminds us:
“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain’t nothing to it….
Maybe the secret to enjoying the passage of time is to bring more mindfulness to the chores and more awareness to the celebrations. Can I up my level of engagement? Paying closer attention might imbue activities with more of the pleasure that James Taylor sings about so beautifully.
For instance, my first act upon waking is to start making coffee. But I usually do it by rote, not stopping to appreciate the smell of the coffee or the clarity of the water going into the pot. Though my attention snaps back when I take my first sip, my challenge is to bring awareness to the entire process. “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” wrote T.S. Eliot. If this is literally true of my life, shouldn’t I at least smell the coffee?
Jon Kabat-Zinn says that, “If we are to grasp the reality of our life while we have it, we will need to wake up to our moments. Otherwise, whole days, even a whole life, could slip past unnoticed.” In his book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, he has a wonderful entry called “Cleaning the stove while listening to Bobby McFerrin,” about using the process of cleaning the stove as a mindfulness practice, and the accompanying music as a way to engage the whole body in the task. It is a good lesson for me to remember when I reluctantly approach the job of drying my hair – can I engage both my mind and body while doing it, can I be more fully aware of the transition from wet to dry?
So maybe you’re saying “Sure, I zone out when I’m doing boring jobs, but I always pay attention when it’s something important like lunch with my mom, or playing a game with my kids.” Really? Kabat-Zinn suggests that one way to wake up “is to look at other people and ask yourself if you are really seeing them or just your thoughts about them. Sometimes our thoughts act like dream glasses…Without knowing it, we are coloring everything, putting our spin on it all.” Am I fully present at the birthday party, soaking it in with all my senses, or just going through the motions of enjoyment while planning the story I will tell about it later?
As I write this, it strikes me that everyday mindfulness can’t help but be connected to a sense of gratitude. How can I smell the coffee beans or acknowledge the clean water that goes into making the coffee without being grateful that I have both those things available to me? How can I pay my bills every month without gratitude that I have the money to pay them? How can I observe my birthday, and those of others, without giving thanks that we’re all here together to celebrate? Yes, time flies, but the ride is lovely even when it’s fast.