In this life each of us has only a finite number of sunrises and sunsets, even fewer full moons, even fewer splendid seasons and favorite holidays, even fewer times with a beloved child at this unique phase of their life, and even fewer moments with an elder on the verge of transition. This thought can make us depressed. We want it all to go on forever so that we can relax and be casual about it, rest in it, trust in it. But it's so finite that we may scold ourselves for not gorging fully in every second of it. We may feel bad that we are not sufficiently appreciative of this gift of life.
These kinds of feelings can spark a renewed intention to practice meditation. We know this regular practice will help us develop the mindfulness to experience infinite joy in the finite moments of our lives.
What we find in the process is that meditation can help us develop compassion for ourselves as we live our lives in a way that works best for us. Yes, we are more present to appreciate this gift of life in all its variations, but we may see that we don't have to rush around to seek out every amazingly beautiful moment of earthly pleasure. We discover that even the most ordinary moment when fully experienced is infinitely satisfying in beauty and depth.
Take this moment for example. You are reading, I am writing. Let's both just take a moment here to notice all that is going on. Sense into the body. Notice the overall energy in the body, temperature, textures, the breath rising and falling, the feeling of support the earth provides, any sounds going on in this moment, and any smells available, maybe some discomfort or pain, maybe some pleasurable sensation. Now look around and notice the light, color, patterns, shadows, and the contrast of values. Open to this moment of being, releasing judgments, cultivating compassion, noting gratitude. Ah.
See what I mean? No matter where you are, if you greet this moment sincerely with all your senses, the moment reveals all its treasure.
My mother had a great lust for life, and in her later years every full moon she would organize an evening picnic on the easternmost point of our fair city overlooking the bay. Three generations gathered together to watch the moonrise. It was special, and I am so grateful she did that. In the years since she died there have been many times when I notice myself feeling guilty that I missed a moonrise, again. I have often had private moments with the setting moon out my bedroom window, so it is not the moon I am missing. And I am very involved with my own children and grandchildren, so it is not the three-generation event I am missing. Maybe I am just missing her. And I have a long habit of comparing myself to the woman she was and coming up short. But when it came to full moonrises, she knew she had only a dozen or so more to experience. And that is a great motivator.
I remember when my husband and I planned a trip to enjoy the autumn leaves in New England. After I had made all the reservations at cute little B&B's, his work informed him that he just could not be spared at this time, that he would have to postpone his trip. Postpone? Did they think the autumn leaves would just linger on the tree limbs until he could get time off? We cancelled the trip, but it started him thinking about the finite nature of the years we had left and not long after he quit his job and started being a full time artist. The next year we did go East to see the leaves, but wouldn't you know it, everywhere we went people would say, 'Oh, you should have been here last year. The colors were so amazing.'
How is it for you? Do you feel the finite nature of this fleeting life? Does it make you feel you need to fill your life with amazing experiences?
In this consumer culture, it's easy to develop a consumer mentality around life experiences, acquiring stamps on passports, photos on the internet and checks on bucket lists. It's easy to get into an acquisitive relationship with life. But what do we really 'have' in the end?
Some people say they do extreme sports because it's the only time they really feel alive. Every year we see people doing increasingly dangerous things with the only bodies they have in this life. I am so grateful that none of my children seem to have that need! A less extreme way of feeling that aliveness is through travel where everything is new and engages us in a way our habitual life does not because we live on auto-pilot, get lost in past and future thoughts, and everything becomes a dull redundancy.
But it doesn't have to be that way. No two moments are ever the same. We don't need to go away to experience this moment as new, fresh and alive. Certainly we can travel to interact with other people, to practice other languages, to learn our way is not the only way, and to deepen our understanding of what it is to be in this body on this planet at this point in time. But no matter where we are, if we are fully present and compassionate, we won't have missed a thing.
We can bring the infinite joy of being fully present to savor each moment in this oh-so finite life.