So much of our waking life is spent in a dream. Lost in thought we drift through daily life; hours, even days can slip past unnoticed. We wake, we bathe, we dress, we work. And as we do, an endless stream of thought we are mostly not even aware of has a hold on us. Thoughts that torment us at worst and are pointless at best; worries about the future or regrets about the past, nonsensical little ramblings about what could have been, or should have been or is yet to be. And all the while this moment, with all its potential, with all its wonder, slips away unnoticed.
So much of our life is spent in this haze. Floating through our own stream of consciousness, we are but passive drifters in a flood of thought. Within this style of thinking our role is not an active one. We are passive bystanders, floating wherever the tide may take us with seemingly little to no control over what will grip our minds next.
One of the problems with drifting through our own thoughts is that the lack of awareness brought to any moment leaves us vulnerable to the somewhat dated mechanisms still at work in our minds as a result of our evolutionary heritage. All those mechanisms that used to serve us well in the past, at a time when we could not do much else but follow our instincts, today are some of the greatest causes of our suffering.
One of these mechanisms is that insatiable longing for more that can convince us that nothing is ever enough. That drive that, at a time of scarcity kept us moving, searching for more even after we had eaten. A useful mechanism to this day, but one that can take over our life if we are not mindful of it.
Craving more is a wonderful thing. This very drive is what propels us forward. Life is over before we know it and learning how to ride that desire can help us to create a life that puts our skills and talents to use. But at the same time, we need to learn how to occasionally step off the treadmill of more. Our experience of navigating life is most rewarding when the reins that steer that feeling are held by us.
One way of stilling the desire for more is to learn how to extract more from the present moment. Cultivating a deep and meaningful sense of gratitude for all that we already have and are is a wonderful practice that can lead to more happiness in the moment. Another one is learning how to be more present and pay closer attention to the here and now.
Every single moment is rich in sensation or emotion but we need to teach our mind’s eye how to look closely; we need to cultivate an ability to attend to each moment more fully. In her novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier describes a scene where Griet (the girl with the pearl earring) and Vermeer (the artist whose household Griet is a maid in) are looking out at the sky. Vermeer asks Griet “what colour are those clouds”. She replies “why, white, sir”. He asks her to look more closely at which point she notices:
“’there is some blue in them,’ I said after studying them for a few minutes. “And – yellow as well. And there is some green!’ I became so excited I actually pointed. I had been looking at clouds all my life, but I felt as if I saw them for the first time at that moment”
This is a beautiful illustration of that feeling of looking at something more closely for the first time: when we bring all our awareness to something an entire world of sensation or emotion can reveal itself to us. All at once we can see or feel things that were previously undisclosed.
An enjoyable way of starting to build this practice is to make a moment feel special so that we are more likely to attend to it and not allow distractions (like a freely flowing stream of thought or our phone) to get in the way. Making ordinary everyday moments feel special can help our mind to learn to attend to the present moment more fully and to begin to notice all the wonderful little details that evade us when we are swept up in mind-wandering.
Creating an atmosphere around an activity can help to signal to our minds that there is something in that experience worth attending to. For instance, a simple moment of sitting down to drink a cup of tea can become a mindful activity to be savoured. By folding out our comfiest blanket. By lighting a few candles. By intentionally and carefully brewing our favourite flavour of tea. By picking the perfect accompanying music. Ultimately, when we sit down to enjoy our tea the experience may begin to feel more like a precious moment to be savoured.
By drawing our attention to the different elements of the activity (what are all the subtle flavours we can taste in the tea? How do they change with every new sip? What are the sounds we hear within the music? What are the different instruments we can make out?) and noticing the subtle but rich detail in every aspect of the experience, we can gain so much more enjoyment out of the simple activity of drinking a cup of tea.
On a scale of what truly matters in life, preparing beautiful moments for ourselves and others is a luxury. Focusing on these things over investing in our relationships, self-development, and developing a sense of care for, and engagement with the wider world around us is a trivial pursuit. But in combination, these small moments of joy that can be extracted from everyday life simply by making the ordinary feel more special can be the icing on the cake. A wonderful atmosphere can be a nudge for our minds to attend to the present moment a little more closely.
In the end, the present moment is all we have. Learning how to savour every ounce of our fleeting existence does not strike me as a trivial pursuit.
Images above show our Handwoven Cotton Cushion Covers in Traditional Stripes and Breton Stripes, Kapok Safari Daybed Mattress in Soft Charcoal used as a blanket, Tallow Candle, All Natural Lemongrass Linen Fragrance, Pearwood Dusting Brush, Hand Forged Copper Cup (back in stock very soon), Handmade Heritage Copper Watering Can, Copper Kettle, Maple Cutting Boards, Natural Straw Trivets, Amber Apothecary Tobacco Scented Candle, Simple Ceramic Mug in matte grey, Spice Jar in Stone, Pinch Bowl in matte grey, Tea Strainer in matte grey, Handwoven Cotton Cushion Cover in Pale Pink, Heritage Brass Water Mister.