Last winter my husband and I went to Tahiti for a week. For me, it felt not just like a trip out of the country but like a trip out of this world. All the normal cues that identify me were absent. Separated from my friends, my colleagues, and the rest of my family, and disconnected from my phone, answering machine, fax, and e-mail, I was a person without a context. None of my assigned roles—psychologist, meditation teacher, mother, friend—were operative. There was nothing that I particularly needed to accomplish. I could relax. What's more, since I didn't know any of the people around me, I could see them without their histories, without their opinions, without expectations. I found myself wishing them well simply because they were people and because I was at ease. I felt extraordinarily happy.
This was free time not only in the sense of unscheduled, leisurely time but also in the sense of time freed from all our everyday accoutrements and lifelong biographies. It was vacation time. And vacation time tends to pass differently from real time—more slowly, more mindfully, more benevolently, and definitely more joyfully.
But you don't need to be on vacation to free your mind of its habitual caught-in-responsibility, self-absorbed, stress-filled state. What you do need is the mental habit of paying attention, carefully and completely, to what's happening right now. Experiencing the present moment without reminiscences, comparisons, evaluations, and judgments, you can't be disappointed. Without the mind loop that says "I didn't like this last time" or "He looks like my brother, who ignores me" or "This will probably be boring," every moment is interesting. When you're completely absorbed in right now, you forget to worry. Your mind is free—free to be curious, to be amazed (life is quite amazing), to enjoy, to love.
As an experiment, take a lunchtime walk to a park to feed pigeons. Be so fascinated with the pigeons, their eating habits, the other people feeding them, and the foliage that you forget what just happened that morning and don't prethink the afternoon. Your mind will relax, your heart will pick up, you'll smile at people, they'll smile back.
Or on your next coffee break—really take a break and just have coffee. That's all. Don't phone. Don't e-mail. Don't visit anyone. Just taste the coffee. Look around. See your surroundings as if for the first time.
We can't take a recess from life—it keeps going on. But we can take recesses from feeling trapped anytime. If you take a deep breath and look around, "Look what's happening to me!" can become "Look what's happening!" And what's happening? The incredible drama of life is happening. And we're in it! What's going to happen? Who knows? You can feel your body, alive, breathing, and use all your senses to connect you to the present moment. Moments of connection are free moments—Tahitis of the mind.
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