“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” ~ Emily Dickinson
One of the biggest tricks the ego plays on us is to constantly judge and rank our experiences: “This person or activity is important (good, worthy, desirable) but that one is not (or not as much).” These endless comparisons rob us of the ability to truly see and enjoy people and experiences for what they are: stand-alones, one-offs, events that will never be repeated in exactly the same way again. Instead, we instantly categorize, rank, and file everything that occurs to us, usually without even realizing that we’re doing it.
And we apply this ranking system to everything — the people we talk to, the things we do, the goals we set — even to ourselves. “This other person is more important/successful/prettier/fitter/richer than I am, but that one is not.” Maybe we’re less likely to approach someone who seems “out of our league,” or we pass over someone else we deem less important.
In a thousand ways, our comparisons stand between us and the richness of experience we could have.
As we go through our days, certain activities stand out, while others are rushed through, simply to get them done. We’re impatient with unproductive time, “boring” or repetitive chores, work that seems mundane or unimpressive. We live for the weekends, or vacations, or retirement, and then wonder why they don’t live up to our expectations. The truth is, we’ve forgotten how to simply live, and take in the moments of our lives fully, one at a time. The continual search for something or someone “better” leaves us unable to recognize happiness when it’s right in front of us.
I try to remind myself of this continually throughout the day, raising my awareness of when I’m judging something or someone as “less than.” One practice that helps is to try to see whoever happens to be (six feet) in front of me — whether the cashier at the grocery store or the Queen of England — as the only person in the world for that period, equally worthy of my time and attention. It also helps to believe that, if someone is in front of me, there’s a reason for that. It’s not a mistake, even if my mind says it is.
The same goes for the things that happen. If you’re stuck in traffic or your plans for the weekend fall through, there’s a reason for that, too — so you might as well settle in. In fact, I think the whole concept of “wasting time” is suspect. How can we judge what a “good” use of time is? Can it be just sitting in the sun, getting nothing done? Henry David Thoreau is my favorite muse when it comes to time. At Walden Pond, he wrote:
“For the most part, I minded not how the hours went…it was morning, and low, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished.”
Time seems to magically expand when we aren’t rushing through it to get to the “important” stuff. Try it yourself; Make the decision to give your full attention to whatever or whoever is in front of you in the moment, without judgment or comparison. Be as fully present and wide-awake to your most ordinary days as you would be to a long-anticipated vacation. Give the same effort and care to the work that no one sees as to that which is more obviously rewarding. Let life choose for you, and simply say “yes,” with all your heart.