by Tim McAuley
During the first week of July 2012, a storm left my little town and nearly one million other people in the Mid-Atlantic Region without electricity. The outage lasted eight days for Buffalo, Ohio, and we saw triple digits (F) each day.
I spent much of my free time in a hammock practicing my watching skills. I watched as I breathed in. I watched as I breathed out.
I watched thoughts pop up out of nowhere as I watched the leaves of two young oak trees dance in the hot, humid July breeze.
I think that week here in Ohio was as impactful as the 10-day Thich Nhat Hanh Retreat I experienced in October 2011.
It’s amazing to me the amount of perspective one can gain in such a short period of time.
The day the electricity was restored I decided to limit myself to just a few minutes on the Internet, which turned into an hour. I then returned to my hammock to watch my breath and my thoughts.
“What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” ~Unknown
I wanted to make sure I understood the lessons of that week, and most of all I wanted to take with me the peace of mind I had rediscovered.
So, there I was—under those two trees listening to birds chirp in the absence of gas generators and watching my thoughts.
I brought with me a pen, a legal pad, and a few questions I thought would be helpful to answer before I plugged back in and continued to do what I do.
Question 1: What Brings Meaning to Your Experience?
As I asked this question to my “self,” I started to realize that my focus has been all over the place.
I have a long list of goals. I spent most of my life goofing off, and never thought I could do much of anything. Since I realized that I can do whatever I decide, setting and achieving goals has been fun for me.
After spending enough time asking this question, I realized that I have three major goalsand a list of desired outcomes based on me reaching those goals.
This realization has narrowed my focus a great deal.
What brings meaning to your experience?
Question 2: How Do You Spend/Invest/Leverage Your Time?
Now that I have an idea of what is meaningful to me, it’s easy to look at my daily habits and see where it is I am being mindful of my use of time.
I love me some Facebook, but is it really helping me develop my primary goal—being calm, peaceful, and loving—or is it falsely fulfilling my “need” to feel connected?
I quickly realized I am better off by scheduling social network time as I do appointments. It’s actually been more effective in connecting with people.
This question is proving to be very valuable to me daily, and has morphed into “Is this the best use of your time and energy?”
Question 3: How Do You Feel?
A lot of my research lately has been focused on the limbic system. I’ve been studying stress hormones and breathing techniques that will bring the system (mind/body) back to a state of calm being.
I ask this question each morning and the answer greatly determines how the rest of my day goes.
My primary goal in life is to be calm, kind, and loving. All of the other goals I have listed are things I’d like to do or things/experiences I’d like to have. If I’m feeling a little anxiety when I wake up, my best course of action is to get myself relaxed and calm.
Make sure you ask this question before any coffee. This leads to the next question.
Question 4: What If You Die Tomorrow?
This question actually morphs into a few more.
If you die tomorrow do they know you loved them?
If you die tomorrow are all your apologies said?
If you die tomorrow do you take any forgiveness with you?
If you die tomorrow did you do something today that was meaningful?
Many things in my life are meaningful to me.
On my last day on this planet I hope to wake up and write, eat a variety of fruits, nuts, and oats for breakfast, take a nap, hug 20 people, paddle on my standup paddle board, catch a wave or a wake, tell some people I love them, make love, and enjoy a nice cup of tea.
What if you die tomorrow?
Question 5: How Can You Brighten Somebody’s Experience Today?
Hugs are proven to produce a sense of well-being in both people. Smiles are contagious. Sometimes a kind word from a stranger makes the difference in a person’s day.
It’s so easy to allow our attention to spin out. Most of us are overstimulated, overcommitted, and overly concerned with getting more stuff.
A lot of people have their eyes fixated on the tiny screen of their smartphones. They answer texts and update Facebook while they are in the company of loved ones. The world passes them by as they scroll through so called newsfeeds.
I rarely take my phone out of my house. I know that the ease of access will have me staring into the abyss trying to fulfill that sense of connection while missing the chance to connect in person.
Whose day can you brighten today?
Question 6: What Choices Can You Make Differently?
My brain is programmed to recognize every stupid thing I do, and I still do some pretty stupid things. I recognize them, and do my best to change my behaviors. Some habits seemingly take longer to adjust.
The main reason I haven’t shaved my head and gone to devote myself to mindful meditation at some Thich Nhat Hanh Monastery is that I really think I gain more from the challenge of living a regular guy’s life mindfully.
I think sometimes conflict brings resolution. I’ve learned more about myself through dealing with people I don’t particularly like than I have from my time on the yoga mat or the meditation pillow.
I recognize myself in all that I see. So, I ask myself this question so that I am able to see more and more beauty each day.
What choices can you make differently today?
Question 7: What Can You Give Today?
I spend very little of time trading hours for dollars. I’ve reduced my expenses and lifestyle to afford me the time to work on me, and to write.
As my marketing of books and services takes hold I’ll have more money to give; but for now I have so much more than money can buy.
I have an able body and some helping hands. I have two ears to listen, two arms to embrace, and a mind full of useful information.
I have an endless supply of encouragement when I see people on a mission, and an infinite supply of love when I spend the time to clear.
I have a great smile, which I sometimes forget to show. I’m witty, goofy, and geeky enough to give the gift of laughter.
I really have all that I need in life and so much more.
What can you give today? And what important questions would you add to the mix?