“The art of living is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”
– Alan Watts
Being present is not easy. When attention is clear and focused, it can feel intense. It makes us sensitive to each moment, which we don’t always prefer for various reasons. Sometimes we might prefer not to notice what is happening and at other times we are simply tired and wishing for some kind of escape from life. On the other hand, we might feel inspired by the idea of learning the art of living. We feel certain that if we drift carelessly we might miss a lot, and if we experience everything only through the lens of our fears and opinions, we might not recognize the freshness, uniqueness, and beauty of our life.
We can cultivate an awareness that allows for things to be as they are and for us to be okay at the same time, no matter what. We can have our mind open and wholly receptive as the mainstay of our practice of the art of living. This openness does not need to lead to a passive way of moving through this world; instead it can enable us to be open to new responses in every moment. These responses might even be much more connected to or reflective of who we actually are instead of just reflecting our habitual reactions, our opinions and fears.
Being present can open every moment into a vast space. It can mean focusing attentively on one incident, one person, one thought — but simultaneously it opens awareness to whatever is arising globally, helping me notice what is happening outside, within myself, and in others.
Within the space I can notice my fears and opinions as I sense my habitual reactions. Just beyond these half-conscious impulses is an entire world I might miss without the intention to meet it. The more I train to be open and aware, more present in the moment, the easier I find my access to this larger world and this artful way of living.
In the beginning there is just the one pathway of habitual tendencies, like a paved road through a jungle, easy to travel. Taking it, we become unconscious to the rich world around us. But as we open our mind to the possibility of a different approach, and the more we do this, the easier we can see diverse other paths cutting through the forest. By using these trails we deepen them and they are easier to find later. They will bring us to new places we would have never found otherwise.
Regaining the art of living
So let’s begin today to allow ourselves to be more aware, less careless or unconscious in more and more moments, to regain the art of living. As someone who works with elders at the end of life, those who made a conscious choice to be present to their life tell me they feel they have really lived. Others, for whom this idea has not occurred, sometimes express the regret of feeling that they missed life as it was rushing by. We can choose now to do something different.
Have a good week and enjoy moments of presence with your mind open, sensitive to the current moment and wholly receptive.