We all want to live a mindful life, being fully in the present, totally tuned in to our surroundings every moment of every day. But we also know that saying it is one thing, doing it another.
As I’ve written before, a big reason for our lack of mindfulness can be attributed to the frantic pace of our daily lives—as well as our endemic addiction to smartphones, with the small screen in the palm of our hands stealing our attention from the big, beautiful screen of life right in front of us.
Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote was is arguably the definitive book on mindfulness titled Wherever You Go There You Are. But if you’re like me you can read this book and similar titles, feel like you know what being mindful is all about—and then find that once you get caught up in a hectic day, all that learning dissipates like the morning dew. This got me thinking:
What if there was a single daily prompt that could help you be more mindful?
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a few words you could use to get immediately back on track? I may have found them courtesy of Dan Millman, author of a long-ago spiritual classic called Way of the Peaceful Warrior. After that book, Millman wrote a follow-up called No Ordinary Moments, A Peaceful Warrior’s Guide to Daily Life and a few days ago I dusted it off.
In the book, Millman discloses that as a young man he was once struck by a realization so profound it changed the course of his life. He was outdoors in a park and after practicing a t’ai chi routine, he went to put on a pair of sweatpants over his running shorts. As a group of teenagers watched, he coolly began to pull up his sweats and lost his balance, stumbled backward and fell on his butt. Millman’s realization:
I had given my full attention to the movements of t’ai chi, but not to the “ordinary” moments of putting on my pants. I had treated one moment as special and the other as ordinary.
To repeat, he “treated one moment as special and the other as ordinary.” From this brief experience, Millman came to the follow realization:
There are no ordinary moments.
Millman goes on to tell his teacher from Way of the Peaceful Warrior, an odd fellow named Socrates, about the encounter and the teacher informs him:
Athletes practice their athletics; musicians practice their music; artists practice their art. The peaceful warrior practices everything. That is a secret of the Way, and it makes all the difference.
Millman takes this lesson to heart and teaches us that “walking, sitting breathing, eating, taking out the trash, all deserve the same attention.” Life is a series of moments and each moment deserves the same amount of personal awareness and respect. To that end, as we go through life, we are either awake or asleep, “fully alive or relatively dead.” In his words:
The quality of each moment depends not on what we get from it, but from what we bring to it. And by treating every action with respect and every moment as sacred, you will find a new relationship with life, filled with passion and purpose.
For those who say they’d like to live a more mindful life, but that the demands of work, kids, etc., are too strenuous, Millman reminds us that all moments, even the stressful ones, are what makes up our lives. Each moment is precious and counts for something.
Your relationship with your wife, the responsibilities of children, the pressures of your job—are your spiritual practice. When you recognize this, every moment takes on a greater purpose.
So how do we stay more mindful? Remind yourself of these words daily, hourly, every five minutes if needed. Write them on sticky notes and place them on your bathroom mirror, the fridge, the dashboard, in your notebook: