Karoshi, the Japanese word for death from overwork, is legally recognised in Japan and can be used in law-suits and compensation claims. In Australia, working hours are generally less extreme, but nonetheless, according to the ABS, almost 40% of us report feeling always or frequently rushed and pressed for time. People often come to mindfulness training with a sense of being so busy racing from one task to the next, they are hardly aware of their own lives. After a weekend retreat, or during the eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, many report an increased sense of appreciation. The more we can appreciate what we already have, the less we need to feel driven to constantly achieve more and acquire more things. Appreciation is also a powerful antidote to feeling empty and disconnected from life. Yet sadly, the saying ‘you don’t appreciate what you’ve got till it’s gone’ is often only too true.
We’re hard-wired to focus on threats and what needs to be done next, and it can take a considerable effort to pause and remember what is going well in our lives. A regular meditation practice, or a retreat environment, help to create conditions which are favourable to appreciation:
- Slowing down
We can learn from spaces which are designed to foster appreciation, such as art galleries. Art galleries are among few sanctuaries in a modern city where noise and distractions are deliberately minimised. The walls are white and bare, giving the art works plenty of space. There is no music, virtually no advertising, and people are encouraged to walk slowly, mostly in silence, their attention focused on the art. No one is expected to multi-task, to plan the weekly shopping list while talking to their friend about her marriage problems and trying to take in the art at the same time. Religious spaces, concert halls, libraries – all these are intended to slow us down, decrease distractions, and focus our attention on the art, the religious ceremony, the music or the books.
When these spaces are available we can use them to our advantage, but we can also slow down, simplify, and be more attentive in our everyday lives. It might be the walk to the station in the morning, where we leave home thirty seconds earlier so we don’t have to rush, and we don’t listen to music or try to write e-mails on our phone as we walk. Where we look around with fresh eyes, imagining perhaps that we are travellers from another country who’ve never walked down this street before, using that time to intentionally cultivate attentiveness and appreciation. We can do the same with the people in our lives – sitting around the dinner table as a family and listening thoughtfully to each other, and tasting and appreciation the food which has been prepared by someone. In even the busiest lives there are opportunities to slow down, simplify, and become more attentive. Appreciation doesn’t tend to happen by itself – our threat and drive systems are too dominant for that. Yet with a small amount of effort and intention, cultivating appreciation can over time deeply enrich our lives.