Once upon a time, before the 2020 pandemic made its rounds to our shores, there had already been an epidemic of a sort in our world.
In the old paradigm, many of us had proudly worn busyness as a badge of honor. At work and in our personal lives, we jam-packed our schedules, rushing from one thing to the next, constantly adding items to our ever-growing to-do lists, pursuing quantity over quality of experiences, and rarely pausing for long enough to make real connections with other humans.
It was an addiction to more - more stuff, more experiences, more information, more wealth, more technology to track what we did so we could do even more and be more "efficient" with the time that we had. For those rare souls who escaped this mass hallucination, they were looked upon as if nothing was really happening in their lives and that somehow they were not quite with the program.
I myself was absolutely guilty of it. There was this feeling that if I stopped doing, I wouldn't know how to just be.
And even though the intention underneath all of the rushing and hustling about might have been a real desire to get more out of life, somehow the effect was the opposite. It seemed that I was so caught up in what was happening next that I was barely present at any moment. It was as if I wasn't actually living in my own experience but merely catching up with it. Everything felt like a blur.
When we become addicted to doing more, we lose a sense of what it feels like to be content. That's the nature of addiction. If there is any space in the day, if there is not much happening, our impulse is to fill it up with something, to run to somewhere, to watch something, to buy something, so we don't have to feel the void of nothingness or any unpleasant feelings that might arise when we had to be alone with ourselves. This way of life causes a lot of stress, violence, disharmony in relationships, and illnesses. But just like with addiction, we might know that it is harmful but still don't know how to get off the hamster wheel.
Then COVID happened. All of a sudden, our lives came to a halt and we were forced to slow down and stay put.
Without the usual external distractions and the nagging feeling that I had to be somewhere else, I learned to be with myself in the present moment. Ironically, on the days when life was slow, I was steeped in all my sensations and emotions and was drenched in my sense of being. For the first time in a really long time, I felt fully engaged with life, as opposed to merely trying to catch up with it.
I recall the times in my life when there were big chunks of time - as a teenager chatting with friends on the endless summer nights, as a college student living and traveling in a slower culture, or as an adult having extended stays in nature with no technological distractions - where the day just drifted into the night, and where the night just drifted into the next day. My days weren't jammed with activities, and I wasn't racing around like a madwoman. Somehow, those experiences have stood out in my memories in a disproportionately vivid and powerful way. It felt as if life elongated and time stretched infinitely into the distance. Even when I wasn't doing much, life was amazingly detailed and there was a richness to just being in the moment.
COVID gave me the opportunities to once again experience life in a slower way - sipping a cup of tea with a friend that lasts a couple of hours without having to check the time, sitting at the piers under the afternoon sun with no plans after, enjoying a day hike in nature without having to rush back to attend someone's birthday dinner. Lately, I've been spending my weekends with absolutely no plans, no agendas, simply letting life unfold in the moment. After spending my whole life organizing, planning, and strategizing, just following the momentary pleasures to allow for what comes next feels luxurious and liberating.
Perhaps the silver lining of this period is to remind us that contentment is not far away. We can teach our mind and body to slow down internally instead of living in a constant state of craving for more. As we slow down, we start paying more attention to the details that happen around us. We look at the moon for longer than usual. We take a walk in the neighborhood and notice all kinds of things we never noticed before.
The key to contentment is really to let ourselves notice when we are in that moment of simplicity. We recognize that life is fully lived by having little joys strung together throughout the day, instead of being hungry for the big, glamorous experiences which we can spend all of our time chasing after but never truly relish. We can become accustomed to the simple things, the little pleasures and sweetness, and connections with the people we love. When we show up in such quiet, simple ways, have real heart-to-heart conversations, be with the now instead of chasing after more, we exude a presence that provides a safe space for others to fully appreciate the beauty of the moment as well.
So I invite you to set an intention to start looking out for these simple but precious pleasures, even in those moments when we feel like we're in a rut. Notice the moment when you're looking into the eyes of a baby who is looking back at you when you're sitting on the train. Notice the afternoon sun shining on your face. Notice the temperature and texture of your beloved's hand as you hold it. Notice the melting of your friend's heart when you get quiet and truly listen.
When you pay attention, you will see that all these little moments start to feel like real life, and this dream life of chasing starts to feel unreal.