Today morning, I woke up feeling a slightly toxic mix of sickness, low mood, and light anxiety. I guess, my Covid recovery is slower than I expected.
Even the morning meditation didn’t help much – my mind was too fragmented.
So I went for a walk. But instead of just making it a purely physical activity, I followed the walking meditation guidance from Sharon Salzberg, one of my favorite meditation teachers. Within 45 min, I was feeling lighter, calmer, and I daresay, even a touch of delight.
And that brings me to a bigger question: Can we make each day delightful?
I think the answer is a clear ‘yes.’ But I am not talking about ecstasy or thrill, just the simple delight of being present and living each day fully. And it is not an esoteric theory – it is something we can all practice just by being a bit more deliberate.
So allow me to share this story of the Vietnamese meditation master, Thich Nhat Hanh, who once had a friend (Jim Forest) visiting him. So after they had dinner, Jim asked if he might do the dishes.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.”
Jim replied, “Come on, you think I don’t know how to wash the dishes?”
Thich Nhat Hanh answered, “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.”
Jim was delighted and said, “I choose the second way – to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes.
But why is it important to wash the dishes mindfully? Because if we are washing the dishes to just finish the task and escape, for those 15 minutes we spent on the task, we did not really live our life – we lost 15 minutes of our life. Is that not tragic?
And if we can’t wash dishes mindfully, we probably can’t read, cook, or even work mindfully. And every time we do things mindlessly, we let life go by without experiencing it. These lost minutes add up to hours, days, and years of living mindlessly. Sadly, I am also guilty of this.
And this is not just some Buddhist folklore – this is also the finding of cutting-edge research in psychology, which gave us the idea of ‘flow.’
In the 1980s, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the world’s leading psychologists, was researching the question – ‘What makes human beings happy?’ And he found that the best moments people had in their lives were when they were so absorbed in an activity that they lost track of everything else (including time). That state of complete absorption is what we call ‘flow.’
In other words, both the Buddha and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came to the same conclusion – happiness and joy come from being fully present and engaged.
In fact, even the neuroscience of meditation is similar to that of flow – the default mode network switches off, and the mind-wandering stops.
But at a more practical level, how do we EXACTLY go about it? What are the instructions?
The instructions are deceptively simple and here they are:
- Whatever activity you are doing, be fully aware and present while doing it. Do the activity for its own sake, not for any derivative benefit.
- As you do this, your mind will wander and get caught up in daydreams, etc. Whenever you realize it, just acknowledge the distraction and bring yourself back to the task, again and again.
When we do any activity mindfully, it becomes a meditation: Cooking is meditation, writing is meditation, walking is meditation – in fact, our whole life is meditation.
Lest it may sound like hyperbole, this is exactly what the Buddha says in the book ‘Sathipathana Sutta.’
But let me also strike a cautionary note – we might be tempted to say, “This is all good for monks and yogis, but not for me – I have a busy life and I have to get stuff done. I need to check my phone, emails, and messages. I need to multitask. I can’t do this mindfulness business.”
Wrong. This is relevant, especially for us busy folks. Doing things mindfully makes you focused, gets more done, and as a bonus, makes you also feel much happier.
Remember: You don’t have to be perfect – nobody is. Your mind will wander a lot. You will get caught up in the daily grind and will forget to be mindful. And that is totally fine – just bring your mind back to the task at hand every time you catch your mind wandering.
Imperfection is the perfect place to start. Gradually you will get better.
So here is my suggestion – start each day by resolving to be present and keep coming back to the present moment whenever you realize that you have strayed.
Over time, even simple activities will feel delightful – whether it is having tea, working on a spreadsheet, or walking up a flight of stairs.
Delight comes from doing simple things with full engagement. Don’t take my word for it – discover it for yourself.
Thank you for reading this. Do try it out.