I woke up a bit too early this morning – too early and too dark to start the day just yet. So I stay in bed and let my mind wander – presenting a smorgasbord of various images and conversations, some in the past and some in the future. Then daylight expands slowly and gradually like ink absorbing on a piece of paper. Birds of different kinds start their days busily communicating whatever is important for them – some much louder, some much more subtle.
In his book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, Sam Harris says “How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.”
Catching ourselves on autopilot mode and observing the thoughts as if they were someone else’s is the moment that we give ourselves a break. It’s the moment that the spell is broken, and the quality of our mind exists. Now with a bit of distance to the thoughts, we give it a fair chance of more balanced interpretations.
In our lives, we are presented with various challenges and opportunities. How do we see them and interpret them? How do we respond because of our interpretations?
I have cancer. On autopilot mode, my mind can be making up a story of a victim. I’m extremely unlucky. My interpretation can be that this whole deal is unfair when I have led a reasonably healthy lifestyle. Why me?
Or I catch myself and alter the course of my mind’s trajectory. I can then choose to see that my unlucky situation is the result of random odds, and I can use this as an opportunity to expand in a way that hasn’t been available before. So far, the journey has allowed me to do just that. I’ve connected with family members and friends in a way that wasn’t available before. I learnt to rely more on others and to be more vulnerable. Acceptance is easier now than before. Going at a different pace, a slower one, allows for different viewpoints, different scenery. Like walking around in a new city gives us access to a level of detail that we are unable to experience if we’re driving around the city.
I also ‘live’ in the impermanence of life and accept this as part of my reality, more so now than before cancer. I have a lot less attachment to things, the status quo and even people as a result. I knew that 5 months of chemo would end one day and now the last chemo is making its way through my system. I know that a big surgery is scheduled at the end of the month and 6 weeks of recovery will probably be really hard. But I also know that it too will pass. Eventually, the whole treatment program will be behind us.
Death is not a scary monster anymore. It will come sooner or later. I’m even more convinced now than ever that we need to live an intentional life. It’s so short that we don’t have the luxury of time to squander it.
Having lived the notion of the end of my life, I am cognizant of what counts and what doesn’t in the end. People whom I care about count. The positive impact that I can make on people around me counts. What I strongly believe in and living this accordingly count. Now matters much much more than later.
What doesn’t count? Stuff doesn’t. Status doesn’t. Success doesn’t unless it is about improving the lives of others in some way. Material possessions certainly don’t.
The quality of life really resides in the presence of the mind. The relationship we have with our minds determines all the other relationships we have in our lives.
So I listen to the birds, I watch the sun rise and my mind is awake.