According to the thirteenth century Zen master Dogen, there are 6,440,099,180 moments in each day. If we multiply this by the 342 days remaining of this year, we still have 2,202,513,919,560 moments ahead of us before we get to 2015. Of course, in reality it’s impossible to calculate the ephemeral nature of moments, but in mindfulness every moment is an opportunity to become more present, and Dogen’s calculation, give or take a few moments, clearly presents us with numerous opportunities to be mindful each day.
If we look at our attitude towards the many moments in our lives, we tend to divide them into a range of categories, such as:
1. Special, important moments
2. Ordinary, less-important moments
3. Suffering moments.
Leaving suffering aside for now, as this is a topic in itself, special moments can be further divided into:
1. Special moments which are exactly as we’d hoped they would be
2. Special moments which are pretty good, but in some ineffable way slightly disappointing
3. Special moments which surpass even our expectations (1 and 3 are quite rare!).
Ordinary moments, on the other hand, can include:
1. Frustratingly boring moments
2. Ok, slightly hum-drum moments
3. Moments we can cruise through on automatic pilot, without taking much notice of them
4. Moments we rush through in order to get to the special moments we actually care about.
We have a tendency to build our lives around the special moments, such as weddings, Christmas, the birth of a child, getting to the top of Mt Everest, and so on. There is no doubt that the special moments add great richness and often joy to our lives. However, if we draw up an honest inventory of our days, it’s pretty obvious that most of our lives are actually spent in the ordinary moments – all those everyday routine tasks we could almost do in our sleep – and, in fact, often end up doing more or less in a state of sleep-walking.
One of the gifts of a regular mindfulness practice is to transform how we live the so-called ‘ordinary’ moments of our lives. There are no fireworks (which is kind of the point), but you suddenly notice the water on your skin when you have a shower. You are aware of your breath when you’ve stopped at a red light. You taste the food you spent an hour preparing – and not just the first mouthful, but the whole of the meal. You pay more attention to routine tasks at work, and enjoy them more. There are millions of processes happening within our bodies and around us in the universe which make it possible for us to be alive, which allow us to experience this particular moment right now. We really don’t need any miracles, because just to be alive is miraculous enough. The practice of mindfulness allows us to appreciate and experience these many precious ordinary moments more fully.
Weekly practice idea:
Every now and then, stop and reflect on how precious this particular moment is. Take a few breaths to savour the sense of being present.