Yesterday I touched on assessing how we spend the precious hours we are alotted as living, breathing human creatures. There are many ways to use those hours.
When we’re young or even when we’re older but mindless, we think we have time to kill. Even before the age of electronic entertainments, there was a plethora of distractions and amusements to kill time. Practically all of us have been guilty of over indulging in distractions to some degree. My purpose in pointing out our tendencies to amuse ourselves is not to condemn or overly disparage them. I mention those things to bring them to our attention.
Like the Roman strategy of distracting the public with “bread and circuses” to pacify the citizenry, our contemporary leaders of nations and industry do the same thing. In fact, when we notice that we’re feeling uneasy or fidgety, our tendency is to flip on the teevee, crank up some tunes, surf the web, go shopping or do any number of the activities at our disposal. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the activities as long as we don’t do them automatically. If we do them out of habit, we may be missing out on our life.
Normally, we are expected to passively take up the suggestions we receive daily. Watch a certain teevee program for the latest developments. Tune into your radio station for companionship and music. Use your phone and take advantage of all the latest “apps”. Flip on the computer and surf the night away. The marketing of these activities is normal and most folks just accept such as a matter of fact. It’s so much easier to go along to get along. The use of these entertainments is wonderful and useful if done mindfully and with balance.
Not long ago, many of our things and amusements would come to a screeching halt if a power outage suddenly happened. Until the advent of so many battery powered items, most of us would panic and become angry that our teevee show went dark. The video game got instantly cancelled. The Internet went away. We were forced to either stew in our frustration or to use the power outage as a time to stop and renew our connection with the real world.
Now, we have to schedule in some downtime. Time when we’re not multitasking, and amusing ourselves to death. Time to consciously pay attention and slow down. Sometimes we are nudged to be fully present by nature.
This morning, I intentionally stayed in bed for an extra half-an- hour. In fact, I’m experimenting with the idea of not going to the gym on Sundays. It’s an awkward feeling, but I think it’s a healthy experiment in variety. I got up. Opened the blinds. Took in the sight of the outdoors. Grey. The light snow cover is beginning to thaw. The sky is dominated by the overcast of status cloud cover. Grey. The use of color photography is futile. Everything is monochromatic. This is how the day is going to start.
This is what set the tone for the level of activity that I plan to undertake. Mellow, contemplative and mindful. I have not flipped on the radio nor even logged onto the Internet to check the weather forecast. Sitting in my favorite chair, I slowly sipped a mug of coffee. The heat and aroma were the backdrop of my observations of the outdoors view. The monotone of grey was interrupted by the activity of my favorite red squirrel, Dave, dashing across the yard and zipping up one of the elm trees. He was back down the tree to scamper to a tree close to my window. Part way up, he stopped, looked towards me, then perched himself on a branch. My breakfast of hot oatmeal was consumed mindfully and thankfully.
I later thought about something that the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh had written about his raisin meditation. You take one, only one, raisin. Hold it in your hand and study it. Look at the color, the texture and wrinkles and its aroma. Do this carefully with as much mindfulness as you can practice. Place the raisin to your lips. Feel the temperature, the texture and increase in aroma. Slowly and mindfully do this. Place the raisin into your mouth. Just hold it on your tongue as long as you can. Pay attention to the raisin and your reactions and impulses about it. Go ahead, then, and slowly chew it. Make note of the feel of the raisin, its tastes and how your teeth and the raisin interact. Carefully observe everything about this act. What is going on in your mouth? Finally, swallow the raisin and mentally follow it down your esophagus. How do you feel after this very simple raisin meditation? Can you do the same thing with other activities? Namely, slow activities?
One especially indulgent activity is to spend some time in a quiet room with a scented candle. You can pick up the candle and study it, feel the waxiness of it, breath in the fragrance, pay attention to the weight, color and size of the candle. Study the holder or plate that will contain the candle, do the same as you did with the candle. Then carefully place the candle into the holder or plate. See how the two work together to form a new visual composition, study that composition carefully. Next, take a match (cigarette lighter ONLY if you don’t have matches). Look at the box or matchbook, hold it, feel it, smell it. Go ahead, then and strike the match. Make note of the sudden ignition of chemicals and flame from the friction. Pay attention to the odor of the combustion of the match head and match.
Then, touch the flame to the wick of the candle. Pay attention to the sharing of the match flame with the candle. Extinguish the match by blowing on it or shaking it vigorously. If the flame burned down the length of the match to nip your finger and thumb, pay attention to your reaction to that. Notice the charred remains of the match. There is some smoke. Smell that and mentally observe your reaction to those things. Place the match onto the candle holder and study the composition of the candle holder with the candle and the extinguished match. Then bring your attention from the whole composition to focus on the flame.
Just study the flame. Don’t analyze the flame. Just observe the flame. When a thought interrupt your observation, simple acknowledge the thought and let it go away on its own without clinging to the thought. Sit with the flame for several minutes, just watching the flame. Finally, extinguish the candle’s flame and observe the smoke, the composition and the aroma of the smoke with the fragrance.
This is a very special treat you can give yourself each day or night that will bring you much happiness and joy because of its simplicity. It is something you can freely do if you are religious or if you are an atheist. It doesn’t matter. Paying attention is not a religious or philosophical dogma. Paying attention is part of our biological design. We can use that function freely and to our advantage.
The Blue Jay of Happiness enjoys lighting a stick of sandalwood incense to accompany the candle exersize.