An (Extra)Ordinary Day

Painting of greenery and bridge by Rizna Munsif

You wake up, get out of bed, get dressed and do things you have to do.

Noon comes and you do a few more things you have to do. Some things you do for yourself. Others you do for others.

The afternoon creeps on you, and behind the afternoon sneaks evening.

Night falls. You sleep alone or with someone. You dream.

In the morning you remember your dreams or you don’t.

You get out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed and do things you have to do.

A week passes, a month, a year. Life seems so short.

Pause for a moment. Breathe. Be still. Is life really short?

It only seems so because we tend to do the same things at the same hours.

Our cells program us for efficiency. Our cells are selfish. But we are not only our cells. Between stimulus and response, there’s “I”. There’s “you” and there’s “me.” We can choose our response.

There are 24 hours in a day. 1,140 minutes. 68,400 seconds. That means quite a few choices.

You get more than one chance to make your day different from yesterday. In fact, you get many chances every day. You only have to pay attention to them…

1

When it’s time to eat, eat something new. Try a new recipe. Or ask the waiter for something you haven’t tried before.

2

Take a different route home. Wander. Take your camera with you.

3

Talk to a stranger. Be the one to start the conversation. It’s okay if they think you strange. Strange is harmless.

4

Read different books. If you stop in a bookstore, go to a bookshelf you don’t usually go to. Get rid of prejudices. Read philosophy. Read a treaty on medicine. Read a soapy romance.

5

Listen to different music. Shuffle more.

6

Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts and experiences. Writing deepens your experiences and also broadens them.

7

Become aware of your habits and routines. Change them bit by bit.

8

Do something you always do but do it in a different way. Brush your teeth with your left hand.

9

Don’t do anything at all. Stop. Still yourself in a chair, in bed, or on the floor.

Who are you? What do you want? How many days do you have left?

It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that every day you try something new. Even if it’s only a different kind of salad.

It’s the simplest way to make your day belong to you more. To make life richer, longer.

How to Spring-Clean Your Mind

drew-graham-327935-unsplash

Springtime is a good time for cleaning not only our houses, but also our minds. A clean mind is a better mind.

1

Tidy up your plans and hopes for this year. Label them on paper if you have to. Set goals. Turning them into reality will then become easier.

2

Empty your mind of thoughts. Do it for at least a minute or two every day. Better yet, do it for 30 seconds every time you remember. Take anything empty in your house as a cue – an empty bottle, an empty bowl, an empty pot. Learn emptiness from them. It can be wonderful.

3

Sweep your thoughts. Do away with negative thoughts. They will creep in, they always do. But what’s the use of them? When a negative thought strikes you, become aware of it. Then let it fade.

4

Straighten out your expectations. Do you want to become the best writer in the country? The top student in your class? The best athlete in town? Do you really need to achieve that to be happy? Maybe just doing what you already do is enough. Or maybe you only have to make a change or two in your life. The good things in life often lurk around the corner.

5

Wash away your sorrows. Wash them in the shower, wash them in the rain, wash them in tears if you have to. But wash them. You may not be able to wash all of them, but you’ll weaken them. Otherwise, they will weaken you.

6

Throw away all those ideas and prejudices and convictions that hurt you. Throw them away like the garbage man throws away the contents of a trash can. Keep your mind can empty for new ideas and discoveries. There’s no idea that will end all other ideas, there’s no final solution to any of life’s problems. There’s only change, only transformation.

7

Wipe away last year’s regrets and disappointments. Don’t let them stain your personality, your mood, your character. Don’t let them make you feel less than you are. Wipe them away.

8

Launder your beliefs. Do they make your life better or only limit your range of experiences and your outlook? Don’t be afraid to launder your beliefs. If they are truly yours, if you truly believe in them, they will keep their form and color after the washing, and when you hang them to dry in the open, they will smell good too.

 

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

When Your Life Feels Too Short

“Life is so short,” you hear people say. “It passes like a dream. It seems that only yesterday I was a kid.”

I disagree. Life is not short, not unless we let our mind make it so.

I am only 26 years old, but I have lived a great deal already. I would like to say that I have done everything – that I have climbed mountains and backpacked my way through South America; that I have loved many women; that I have read all the great books and written some great books myself.

That is not the case, at least not yet. There are many experiences that I have not had and that I would like to have. And yet, whenever I am reminded of my age and of the past that is behind me, I find myself reassured by the depth of my experiences.

I know that I can turn inwardly to a thousand rich memories nestled in me and find in them good proof of the long years I have lived already.

Such as the many days I spent in the park, walking mindfully in a refreshing world of green and blue, or cycling through it in the hush of cool summer nights.

Or how once I knelt before a girl to tie her shoelaces. (She was rather mean to me after, but somehow that does not sour my happy memory).

Or the first shave I gave my grandfather after his stroke.

Or when, as a kid, I understood that my father was sick and that he would soon die.

Many of my memories are tinged with sadness, and some are dreary. But I find that sad memories have the power to take me to a depth of feeling otherwise inaccessible to me, that sets the measure of what it means to be human.

“Among all living creatures, it is man that lives longest. The brief dayfly dies before evening; summer cicada’s knows neither spring nor autumn. What a glorious luxury it is to taste life to the full for even a single year. If you constantly regret life’s passing, even a thousand long years will seem but the dream of a night.” – Yoshida Kenko

Taking the time to remember, whether aloud with others, or quietly alone, makes life seem longer and deeper. One memory encourages another, and more than images and scenes, it is feelings and moods that we remember, that is, that we recreate.

For memories themselves are not mere reproductions of something that has been, but signposts for the present. Good or bad, inspiring or depressing, memories guide our steps, influence our direction.

But more than our memories, it is what we do and how we do it that determines the length and depth of our lives. Boredom is often a warning sign.

“What people call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time caused by monotony – uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death. When one day is like every other, then all days are like one, and perfect homogeneity would make the longest life seem very short, as if it had flown by in a twinkling.” – Thomas Mann

There was a time when I used to do the same things at the same hours, eat the same food, play games with myself, all under the burden of a great sadness. Now, looking back on those times, I find them compressed to but a few memories, and even those scant and shallow.

We have to be careful about such habits, not to slid into them even if they are a protection from depression and sorrow. All too often, comfortable habits easily become monotonous ones.

But then it doesn’t take all that much to refresh habits. Only presence, together with some hope and a bit of confidence.

“Habit arises when our sense of time falls asleep, or at least, grows dull; and if the years of youth are experienced slowly, while the later years of life hurtle past at an ever-increasing speed, it must be habit that causes it. We know full well that the insertion of new habits or the changing of old ones is the only way to preserve life, to renew our sense of time, to rejuvenate, intensify, and retard our experience of time – and thereby renew our sense of life itself.” – Thomas Mann

Our sense of time is a habit itself, I would say. If we do not remember, if we not to turn inwardly, if we do not refresh our habits, life will seem short, unpleasantly so.

But if we do all that, then on those days when age or sorrow folds our life like an old, overused fan, making it seem light and insubstantial, then we will have our habits and our turning inward to make us say,

“No, life is not short, it is not a waking dream. Life is long. I may not have done all that I wanted to do, but I sure lived a lot already.”