Sometimes when I go about trying to be present, I wonder if I might be corrupting — just a wee bit — the actual living of my life with all that deliberate, effortful awareness. The extra awareness can almost make it feel like I’ve created a Third Person Me observing Elizabeth as she eats her bowl of soup, walks down the street, engages in a conversation, types these words. Is all this awareness really such a good idea? Wouldn’t it be better to just be really fully engaged in the living of life rather than be really fully present to it in a semi-detached way?
Of course, a lot of times we aren’t fully engaged or fully present. We’re more along the lines of people-like packages cycling through our daily 24-hour habits of living. That’s what I think Thich Nhat Hanh is trying to help us overcome when he urges us to be mindful. Take happiness, for instance. The late Buddhist monk, peace activist, author, poet and teacher, recommends a very simple method for allowing our happiness to fully register. (Or even just register.) The method goes like this: when you find yourself in that arena of happiness when life has just delivered something so sweet, so precious, so fundamentally heart expanding, and probably so very ordinary, observe it by simply saying, “This is a happy moment.”
In that declaration, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, is an awakening for everyone.
When this recommendation came across my radar, a vision of my 3-year-old granddaughter instantly came to mind. She was sitting on my living room floor digging through an old-fashioned lunch box I’d filled with all the jewelry I’d accumulated over the years but no longer wear. It was dripping with beads and baubles, gems and sparkly things, necklaces, bangles, rings and watches of all shapes and colors. We called it the treasure chest. As my granddaughter sat there on the floor surrounded by treasure, she suddenly said to no one in particular, “I’m so happy.”
It’s hard to explain why this declaration coming from a 3-year-old made us all immediately laugh with surprise, as if something remarkable had just happened. She was just so unexpectedly in touch with herself, with her experience. I think, for a moment, she did wake us up.