“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” —Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau went to the woods to learn how to be radically alive and get the most out of being here. He was seeking, in more modern terms, a mindful life.
This is my core desire too. This has been the driver for most of my adult life—to wake myself up, to be as alive as I can be while I’m still breathing.
Short of living in the woods, where life becomes so simple and raw– stripped down to what is essential, how can I rout out “all that is not life” and “reduce it to its lowest terms”?
I have learned, when I remember, to make every single moment—a practice of being mindful.
It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, I can still practice being mindful. I may be standing in line at Costco
—where the manufactured eco-toxins whirl into my nose making my tongue feel weird—where the woman four people in front of me is arguing over the price of her purchase and my recently purchased chard is wilting in my car outside.
I can be present and awake for even these moments rather than waste a moment of my life.
Mostly I practice NOTICING rather than just seeing or being lost in my thoughts. I notice the sensation of my breath and my body balancing on top of my feet, and I notice my impatient thoughts in my head and let them go.
This less than preferable moment in Costco can still be a moment of noticing I’m alive–one that will be otherwise lost in the millions of moments already lost in my vast unconscious collection. And when I do this, my consciousness is no longer hijacked by my impatient, avoidant thoughts.
I become happy and then peacefully wait in line.
In fact, I then begin to notice the sweet old woman behind me with her arms overly full of red silken flowers that bring out the rosiness in her cheeks. If I’d stayed focused on my negative, anxious thoughts, I wouldn’t have noticed her.
I let her go ahead of me because she’s so overloaded. And like myself better for being kind.
There’s a kid in front of me clutching his father’s finger and the two of them exchange love with their eyes. I wouldn’t have noticed that.
Mindfulness can be an every moment meditation on absolutely everything—if I just notice.
Like Thoreau, I don’t want to come to die and discover that I have not lived.