Wake up, brush, have tea/coffee, shower, get ready, drive, work, have meals, watch TV, sleep, wake up, brush…spot a familiar pattern? Most of us find it difficult to distinguish our lives on a given day from any other—as if we are following a script day after day, week after week, month after month, for years together, never stopping to reflect why we do what we do. To a greater or lesser degree, we are all living like automatons.
At best, our minds offer proxies to the present moment, while constantly re-living the past or planning for the future. Our ideas, philosophies, reactions, behaviours are conditioned responses, even when they cleverly disguise themselves as being conscious thoughts and choices.
Indulge in this quick and simple exercise right now: Take a small piece of chocolate and hold it in your hand. Bring it close to your eyes and look at it carefully—observe it, examine it. Feel the texture, the edges, the corners. Take in the aroma. Now close your eyes and put the piece in your mouth but don’t eat it just yet. Experience how it feels on your tongue—the texture, the weight, the taste. Move it around your mouth—notice how you feel, the saliva gushing in. Now bite into the piece, chewing ever so slowly. Give the chocolate your complete attention—allow yourself to get totally absorbed in it. Resist assessing or thinking about it; just experience it.
During the exercise, you may have felt a heightened sense of being present in the moment. Some of those who tried this exercise have reported feeling “fully satisfied” with a single piece of chocolate as if they had the whole bar. Others have claimed that though they have eaten chocolates before, they tasted it for the first time.
That’s what conscious experience does—awakens you to the now, even as it releases thoughts of past or future. This kind of conscious experience is what mindful living is all about.
This month, Charles Tart, a world-renowned authority on mindfulness, takes us to an altogether different level of awareness. Such is the power of the insights he offers that you may find yourself compelled to reflect on how much of your own life is on auto-pilot and how much of it is by conscious choice. The two exercises that he shares with us at the end are potentially transforming—provided, of course, that they are done mindfully.
Zen master and Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” Read this full story to snap out of your conditioned, robot-like life—and never miss a thing, ever again.