One of the challenges of this time of the year is all of the images of the perfect Christmas that we walk around with in our head. As a consequence, we run around stressing about making it all perfect. Yet because we compare our experience with an impossible ideal, it never lives up to how it ‘should’ be. We feel disappointment, even a sense of failure. Naturally, however, the ideal Christmas is a curated ideal, and an external view, whereas our reality is an internal perspective full of all our ‘to do’s’, commentaries and self-doubt.
Similarly, we might think about the idea of ‘living life to the fullest’. What does that mean? I ask myself if I live life to the fullest or if I am missing something, or sitting on a shelf while life is going on around me?
Is living life to the fullest about doing exactly what I want? Or packing the day full of activities? Or a case of more is less? Or having fun? Or giving 100%? Or being totally dedicated to a cause? What is it?
Can I be living life to the fullest if I contemplate a lot? If I garden a lot, if I play my guitar a lot, if I meditate a lot, if I watch a lot of Netflix?
So much is about the question, so I started asking at the end of the day: ‘Was this day well spent?’ The answer would bring more questions around the criteria: is it about enjoyment, fun, delight, about good investment in the future, restoration, being of ‘use’ or service’ or is it a balance between these?
Perhaps different ages bring different meanings, but regardless, there are daily chores to be done such as cleaning, washing, paying bills, organising appointments, and homework/preparation.
Would living life to the fullest mean getting rid of all of this? I once read a thought-provoking article about the danger of outsourcing all of our basic housework such as cleaning, washing and cooking. The argument was that cleaning up after ourselves keeps us grounded.
Sometimes I have felt that living life to the fullest is like tasting as much as possible of what this planet offers. But we all know that is not sustainable, and that all those experiences will need to be digested, reflected upon. Others have suggested just being as kind as you can and appreciating all that we have. But what about responsibility? What about speaking out when things are not right? Where does that sit?
I really don’t know how to live life to the fullest, or if it is even possible. Our fear of missing out is a huge saboteur of a good life and perhaps this idea of living life to the fullest contributes to that. In the long run we are just little humans living little lives and then we die. What happens in between, the experience of life, surely must be what it is about, good and bad.
In other words, it is less about what happens, what is acquired, than about the experience, about becoming conscious. ‘Am I noticing the human experience or am I lost in it?’ There is a healthy ‘one with’ and an unhealthy ‘one with’. The unhealthy is when I am identified with the victim, with what is wrong, the wanting, at odds with the moment, resisting the moment or resisting what ‘IS’. The healthy is when there is harmony between my inner world and the outer world and therefor when I am not caught in the resistance to the moment. But it also happens as soon as I observe resistance to the moment as my attention is then in the awareness of it, not the resisting. (You might have to read this a few times because reading it back even I get confused!)
Perhaps the question then is: ‘Was I conscious, was I awake?’
There is an old Buddhist story about a simple man, Chunda, who had the job of sweeping the temple. The Buddha instructed him to repeat over and over in his mind while sweeping: “Sweep away the dust, sweep away the dirt.” The man started to notice that when he remembered the little mantra he would feel at peace.
The next instruction from the Buddha was that when sweeping the man was to think about sweeping clean the inner dust and dirt in his mind. “Think of the nature of dust and dirt. They cover what is beautiful and clean, and cloud what is clear. And dust and dirt often cover those things that are old and of no more use to us. It is also the nature of dust that we can see it in the air, but when we grasp for it, it is not there, just like thoughts of the future or the past. Think on this and notice when your thoughts are clouding you from the present moment, and causing unhappiness, and notice when you cling to old ways of thinking.” Chunda went back to sweeping.
Much later, the Buddha asked Chunda, “Do you stop and enjoy the beauty of a clean temple after you have swept?” “Yes, master.” “Good then”, smiled the Buddha, “I hope you will now remember also to stop and notice the simple joy of a clean inner temple, as well as an outer one”.
The story finishes with Chunda continuing to sweep the inner dirt and the outer dirt, and stopping often to experience the peace of the present moment, and the simple joy that was there when all negative thoughts were gone.
Perhaps we could get rid of the idea of living life to the fullest and focus on what makes a day a good day for us. This will naturally change as we age and grow, and it will vary from day to day depending on energy levels, context and focus.
So what would a day look like that you would consider well spent? What ramifications might that have for 2022 – or are you already living it?
Best wishes for you, this country and this planet for Christmas and 2022. Thank you for being part of this little mindfulness community. I have so loved receiving your emails and comments, and appreciate your engagement and your commitment. Thank you. And let’s see what 2022 will uncover!