Do we remember being children? Do we remember being amazed by the wings of a butterfly or noticing how the sunlight glowed behind the leaves? There once was a time when we would simply lay on the front lawn and stroke the petals of a flower.
The concept of time applied differently when we were children. A day in Disney World could last forever; moments were infinite. Yet now, in our college years, time slips from our fingertips every time we try to grab it. One day passes behind the other, transient and fleeting. So what caused our perceptions of time to change?
When was the last time we noticed our fingerprints or our shadows? When was the last time we searched for the moon or the sun or looked up at the beautiful arches on the buildings across the streets? I think it has been a long time. Why is that? Perhaps because our heads are fixated on our schedules, tests, meetings, on tasks we failed to complete, need to do, have yet to do, urgent matters which can be broken down into numbers: bus tickets, payrolls, grades.
In college, we often do not have time to relax. There are seemingly endless cycle of quizzes, tests, midterms, papers, finals. In order to be productive, we focus on the next objective on our schedules, and sometimes the things that can’t be seen, the less tangible matters, are forgotten. In an attempt to attain immediate efficiency, we lose sight of infinity.
When I was younger, I heard a Yiddish tale about a place called the Dead Town. This town was made up of people who did not make conscious decisions about their lives and simply flowed with the tides. According to the tale, their lives were not full lives, since the people did not act as people are meant to, and therefore when it came time for their souls to depart, they couldn’t die. The story ended with the words: “How can you die if you never really lived?”
Are we really living if we simply go through the motions—the walking to class, the taking notes, the talking to people—without thinking and being present in our own stories?
I think we have been conditioned for a long time by our society to believe that life is a marathon and that the fastest one wins. I think we were lied to. Yes, one can live life rushing frantically along the ladder of success. But that is not the only way to live. There is another path, a path that we have forgotten, from our childhood. That path is here if we wish to take it. However, to do this, we must a conscious decision to alter the focus of our lives.
If we are constantly thinking about the next moments when everything will be “wonderful,” are we actually enjoying the moments we are in? And when the moments we have dreamed of finally arrive, will we enjoy them? Or will we again be thinking of different moments, moments somewhere else? Living, I believe, takes place in the present.
On a website called “Wait But Why,” in an article entitled “Life is a Picture, But You Live in a Pixel,” writer Tim Urban discusses this notion of living in each moment. He explains that the mistake people make is attempting to live in the “picture”– in the broad stories of their lives– when in fact all they can ever live in is one pixel at a time. Each moment is a pixel. As Urban writes, “Jack’s error is brushing off his mundane Wednesday and focusing entirely on the big picture, when in fact the mundane Wednesday is the experience of his actual life.”
The young adult lives in the same world as the child, but his appreciation of life is often a washed-out version of the child’s rosy picture. If life is not as enjoyable as it once was, perhaps it is not because the world has changed. Perhaps it was us who have changed. There is a saying I once heard: “A broken jug doesn’t catch the water.” If our minds can no longer grasp the depth or beauty of the moment, perhaps it is not due to a lack in the world, but rather a need for improvement in our perception.
The ability to appreciate the moment is a mindset that can be developed through being mindful. In an article entitled, “Mindfulness, Self-compassion, and Happiness in Non-meditators: A Theoretical and Empirical Examination,” Professors Laurie Hollis-Walker and Kenneth Colosimo examine the meaning of mindfulness. They write, “Mindfulness is…an undistracted awareness of the here-and-now,” adding that, “mindfulness requires vigilance and stable concentration as well as openness.” Overall, Hollis-Walker and Colosimo explain that “because mindfulness means continual contact with experience, there is an opportunity for insight.” In their study, Hollis-Walker and Colosimo found: “Participants who scored high on mindfulness also tended to score high on self-compassion, psychological well-being, agreeableness, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, and [scored] low on neuroticism…. The ability to notice moment-to-moment experiences, with compassion, facilitates insight, clarity, and acceptance.”
The website of the American Psychological Association feature some of the benefits of mindfulness. Based on numerous psychological studies, the website states that mindfulness is associated with reduced stress, anxiety, and rumination, improved memory and focus, cognitive flexibility, and relationship satisfaction. Other studies have shown mindfulness to be correlated with improved self-insight, morality, intuition, and well-being. According to the article published by the APA, there is also new evidence that suggests that mindfulness promotes empathy, patience, gratitude, and an overall better quality of life.
Mindfulness is the capture of infinity. Throughout history, there have been people who wanted to live forever. What if we could capture forever? By this I mean that we may not be able to attain the quantity of forever, but we can aspire to witness the quality of infinity by developing an appreciation for ‘infinite moments’. There is depth to the world around us. Just like there is a weight of meaning behind every word, so too there is a depth behind every moment. In moments when our senses are fully engaged, when the rest of the world seems to disappear, our perceptions of time slow down, and even stop for an instant. This is the art of being human. This is our little taste of infinity. Even if these moments eventually do pass, they aren’t signified by how long they lasted, or how many people experienced them; what matters is that they happened.
Imagine an ocean glimmering with the sparkle of sunlight. When we simply look at the water, all we can see is that glimmer. But if we realize that the ocean is deeper, that the water goes down for many miles, we might have a much greater appreciation for the magnitude of that ocean. So too it is with life. When we realize the vastness of a moment, we will gain an immeasurable appreciation for the value of our lives.
The impressions of how to live life that we received from our respective environments do not need to be perpetuated into the next generations. We do not need to run through life. The difference between walking and running is the difference between journey and destination. The difference between one who walks and one who runs is the difference between a person who cares about the journey and a person who cares about the destination. I have only one life to live, and I’d rather walk. Come join me. And together, let’s appreciate the warmth of the shining sun, notice the springtime flowers beginning to bloom, and enjoy every moment in the journey of our lives.