Lesson 1 – Watching the sunset or ….?
On Christmas Day, we were blessed with a spectacular sunset. The sun was surrounded by speckles of light reflected from the scattered clouds that surrounded it.
I sat on the porch with my cat. The sky had become a kaleidoscope of colors. It kept evolving in colors and patterns of increasing beauty as we looked on in awe.
But then I noticed that my cat was distracted by the small bugs that often appear at dusk. He was soon so fascinated by them that he started to chase them in excitement around our little porch. My instant response was ‘Silly cat! Instead of enjoying the glorious, majestic sunset, he is hunting bugs!’
The very next moment, I stopped to think. How many times have I been surrounded by beauty or grandeur, when instead of soaking in the bliss, I have allowed myself to be distracted by nondescript thoughts and actions?
How many times have I not stopped for a minute to savor the sunset from the very same porch? Perhaps I was watching TV, or cleaning the kitchen, or reading a book, or generally not aware that something magical was happening.
Only recently, when walking through a gorgeous trail, I engaged in a conversation and let my intellect and ego surface in response to it. The conversation was ordinary and I should not have gotten so involved in it the way I did. Because in that instant, I stopped admiring the greenery around me. I dropped my state of bliss and started to formulate responses in my head to counter the contrary ideas that I treated like a direct attack on my ego. It ended up being a conversation where both parties left feeling unsatisfied. Neither of us learned anything new and neither of us felt heard. What a waste of time! It would have been better to stay silent.
I recall with chagrin, some events in my younger years. I am one of the blessed few, who grew up by a beach. The beach was the destination of most of my evening and several morning walks too. I can recall so many occasions of being at the beach and enjoying the tranquility, allowing all stress to drop. Unfortunately, there were also several instances when I let my inner turmoil prevail. On such days, I did not notice the vast ocean, the open skies, or the cool breeze. Instead, I spent precious hours worrying about some personal or professional calamity that eventually never materialized. I spent time worrying rather than thinking, planning, or contemplating. Because if I had done any of that, it would have been time well spent. But worry I did and I had made my worries super important – more important than all the serenity that surrounded me.
On further thought, I am acutely aware that I am surrounded by comfort, abundance, and peace. And what do I do with all these resources? Basically nothing. I just dwell on multitudes of frivolous thoughts and pursuits. I don’t worry about as many imaginary tragedies anymore, thank goodness. But I still invest a tremendous amount of time and effort in pursuits that are not meaningful, interesting, or uplifting in any notable way. They do not require me to sit up and think, focus, pay attention. I certainly get a kick out of checking these small goals off my list but achieving these small targets still leaves me in largely the same sphere of thought, action, and existence. So it seems to me that too often, my mind is occupied with the human equivalent of hunting bugs.
Whereas I don’t think I can go through life floating on a cloud of bliss (although I should aspire for that to be my default state), I can choose my pursuits wisely. If something is going to lay a claim on my time and attention, it should be something significant that I have chosen for myself at that time. In other words, it should be deliberate and intentional. Perhaps if I am reading a masterpiece, or writing an insightful essay, or having a meaningful conversation, my distraction from the sunset is acceptable. But if I am chasing bugs, I am selling myself and my time short.