The ridge of hard-pack left by the city snow plow was especially difficult to chop through. My neighbor, Charles, and I began panting and sweating as we chopped and lifted. Charles paused to catch his breath, then exclaimed, “Man, this is really living!” The faceatiousness of the comment triggered laughing fits from both of us. As I finished helping Charles dig out his driveway, I began analyzing the wisdom of his sarcastic complaint.
Up to the time of Charles’ comment, I had been completely engrossed in the task of removing snow. There was no complaint, no wishing I could be anywhere else, no wandering thoughts. In today’s lingo, I was experiencing the “Zen” of scooping snow. I was totally focused on chopping, scooping, lifting, and throwing. In effect, I was really living.
The term, really living, is frequently used by the vacation industry to sell tours abroad. I’ve heard it used by realtors as a way to clinch the sale of property adjacent to golf courses. Christian preachers also like to use the words in sermons. It would be nice to reclaim “really living” from the cliché file to restore the deeper meaning. Like another overused description, “authenticity”, really living needs to get “back to its roots”.
Some of us envision life, as it should be lived, in utopian terms. We might hope and dream of a halcyon world of endless pleasure and heavenly delights. Others desire to live the ideal of serving religion and mankind through countless good deeds. Really living comes to mean some time in the future when we can get away from our mundane daily existence and begin that perfect lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming of a possible, ideal lifestyle. Sometimes it’s fun to merely escape from reality.
Are these daydreams of really living just fantasy? Are we living for some sort of projected ideal? Do we think we’ll finally be fully alive at some time in the future? Isn’t that ideal time actually unreal? Are we authentically, really living when we daydream like this?
The “truth” is really found from moment to moment in the only place we can ever really know. To be present in the moment is the beginning of really living. You might be dreaming of a day on the Riviera taking in sunshine and sipping refreshing drinks. When your fantasy stops, you realize it is only make believe. This is a good opportunity to acquaint yourself with yourself.
If you look carefully at your daydream, you can uncover some of your own underlying desires, ambition, motives, greed and fear. You can get a good idea about what is wrong and what is right about your life when you examine your fantasy. You might feel that a door has been opened to reveal something new and fresh about yourself. Suddenly, there is a twinge of enthusiasm about life. This is not the dull, dreamy thrill of wishful thinking. Instead, the vibrancy of the moment has been revealed to you. You have sampled what it is like to be really living.
Have you ever noticed that when you are conscious of the present moment, the moment has passed? It’s ironic that the act of trying to capture the present moment cannot occur in the present moment. At its best, this effort happens a fraction of a second into the past. When we concentrate on the present moment, we lag behind. This is because we’re analyzing the moments. During our meditation, there might be a loud honk outside our window. The mind instantly thinks, “That must be the neighbor’s SUV.” There’s no stopping that thought. It just arises on its own.
It might occur to you that the mind is always in the process of planning for the future or mulling over events of the past. We aren’t really in the future or the past. We’re actually in the present moment being distracted by these thoughts. We know we cannot really be “in” the future, because events rarely turn out the way we imagine them. The same happens when we’re lost in the past. Our memories of an event become distorted almost immediately after we experience the event. When we honestly, actually understand this, we can understand the present moment, better.
This analysis can help us know the workings of the mind, and, in turn, enable us to let go of these discursive thoughts, for awhile. When this happens, we simply exist. We let go of the analysis and the processes. This state of mind will last until the next discursive thought spontaneously arises. We can then label it and then let go for awhile, more. This is a powerful way to live.
When you’re fully aware of your surroundings, thoughts, and actions, in the moment, you can truly say, “This is really living!”