On my 21st birthday, I left work early to begin the drinking festivities. I intended to exercise my right to drink at at every bar I could drag myself into. My boss, an old Italian tree farmer, walked with me and wished me a good and safe evening.
“A Buddhist friend taught me a trick about savoring the moment; pop a single M&M in your mouth and savor it for as long as you can. Suddenly a tiny piece of candy has tremendously more volume than a handful of the stuff.”
As I hopped in my car and put on my seat belt, she leaned down and said, “You know, your 21st is the last birthday you’re going to look forward to. After this, they come faster and faster every year.” She had a wistful shimmer in her eyes, and my enthusiasm for the evening was dialed back a notch.
I don’t remember that evening, but I remember the advice she gave me. It’s been a phrase I’ve had in the back of my head, here and there, since I first heard it ten years ago.
A few days ago I watched a clip from an interview with Bill Murray. He answers the question, “What do you want that you don’t have yet?”in a candid, honest way. To summarize his response in a few words he replies, “To be more aware of where I am right now.” Or take Garth Algar’s succinct advice from Wayne’s World.
Murray’s answer had no mystical hogwash. It was not a reply tinged in regret or soaked in overly sentimental wishing. His aspiration is a full awareness of the moment, as many moments as possible. But how do achieve this kind of awareness?
There’s an old trick a Buddhist friend taught me on learning how to savor the moment; pop a single M&M in your mouth and savor it for as long as you can. Reflect on the tastes, the composition, and the interaction it has on your tongue and your teeth.
Suddenly a single piece of candy thoughtfully eaten has tremendously more volume than a scarfed-down handful of the stuff. A clear comparison to observing a single moment in your life is implied here, but I’ll let you draw those lines yourself.
My own method for practicing awareness is spending time in my garden. Attentive readers on F24 will probably recognize me as “that plant guy” (a distinction I hold with pride, thank you), so there’s no surprise that my own bit of wisdom here involves growing a garden of any scale.
It’s impossible to spend time among the plants I’ve grown and fostered and not be aware of the moment. The cool feeling of an emerald-green leaf on my finger tips draws me wholly to that moment. Appreciating the delicate flowers on my impatiens contrasting with the burgundy hues of a heuchera shuts out pestering thoughts and anxious anticipation of the future.
Gardening a small window box offers the same level of focus and awareness, a sort of surrender to the moment. A few minutes of gardening offers us a chance to step away from the craziness of our lives and catch our god damn breath.
After the Bill Murray interview finished I thought back to that time my boss offered her bit of wisdom on aging. I’d always taken her input as a hard truth, sort of a tough love measure of sagacity. It wasn’t a cruel thing, but it wasn’t kind.
For the record, she was correct; the years do go by faster the older you get. Our goal is to be aware of every moment we have, because we only have so many.
Spend some time thinking on the ruminations of Mister Bill Murray and the lesson from an old Italian tree farmer. And if you’re feeling adventurous, start a little garden while you’re at it; there’s no better way for practicing awareness.