I went to a summer camp for several years as a child. Each year on the first day we toured the camp as the counselors explained all of the activities. On the first night we were always reminded that our time at camp was short and we should not spend our time sitting in our cabins. We should fit in as much as we could because there were so many exciting things to do. I was too young to fully appreciate the concept of time. To me a week seemed like a very long time. I liked most of the activities and kept myself busy, and each year when camp ended, I was surprised at how fast the time really had gone. Every year, the pattern repeated itself. There would be a feeling of endless time, until all of sudden it was time to go home.
Most of us lead very busy lives. Long hours at work, raising children and transporting them to activities, the necessary tasks of daily living like laundry and mowing the grass, and constant access through phone, fax and email all require time and effort. It is easy to get stuck in our daily routine. We tend to forget how quickly time passes until something reminds us. It may be our child entering a new phase of life, a milestone birthday, or realizing all of a sudden that we are almost a quarter of the way through the year. Wasn’t New Year’s just a week or so ago?
I was reminded of this in January with the death of one of our instructors, Beverly Schroeder. We met in the teacher training program and taught together until her health forced her to stop in 2001. When I visited her right after she decided to transfer her care to hospice, she was still coming to terms with her decision. There was acceptance, but she also expressed a feeling of loss as we talked about the people we both knew.
As I left the hospital that day, I was very conscious of the sights and sounds around me: the huge clouds in the sky, the sounds of traffic, and the many hues of the bricks in the walkway. I felt very aware of the world around me and fortunate to be able to see, hear and experience it. This feeling faded as I went back to my normal activities, but when I visited Bev or thought about her, this awareness returned.
Phrases like “life is short” and “stop and smell the flowers” are common, but we rarely pause to think about what they mean or heed their wisdom. With our hectic days, there is so much to do, plan and schedule, and it is hard to just notice the little things as we rush from one task to another.
There is so much to experience, if we only stop to notice. A common meditation technique is to watch the breath, and to focus on various aspects such as how the breath is flowing, its smoothness, and its feel in different places within the body.
As you watch your breath, you begin to realize that each breath is a little different than the previous breath. One inhalation may feel shallow, another exhalation may feel very long. There may be a roughness in the throat, or a difference in expansion of the ribcage. Unless we stop and watch, all of this happens outside of our awareness.
Watching our breath brings us into the present moment. Any stray thoughts tend to take us away from our breath and out of the moment. Just like our breath, there are many things that occur around us that we see and hear, but they do not really pass into our consciousness unless we make an effort to be aware.
When you bring yourself into the present, the world becomes a fascinating place with new combinations of colors, sounds and smells, and a variety of textures. Nothing is ever quite the same from moment to moment. For most of us, this is not an awareness we can maintain, but we can attempt to find time occasionally to stop and become conscious of our surroundings. There is so much to appreciate.
As spring approaches, try to take a moment to enjoy the ever changing sky, the new, bright colors, the trilling of a bird or the scent of a newly opened flower.