July 20, 2012

Tigers Above, Tigers Below

Lately I’ve been reflecting on mortality -- about death and getting old -- you know, your basic mixed bag of depressing thoughts.  It’s a heavy subject, not something I particularly enjoy thinking about, but for whatever reason it’s been a major theme in my mind for the past several weeks. 

What makes mortality seem particularly close is when life begins to feel monotonous – as if every day is the same. When that happens, I feel like I’m not living life to the fullest, and that makes me a little sad.  Though stability is a basic need in my life (I relish in some amount of consistency and routine), I am a big proponent in continually seeking stimulation and growth.  And while such growth can be achieved by having new experiences, I sometimes wonder, which are the right ones to go after?

But every day is not an adventure, and it can’t be an adventure. Too much chaos, commitments, obligations, etc. wear me out anyway.  I'm an introvert -- I need my quiet time.  While reflecting on appreciating the simple pleasures in life and making small changes to mix up your routine, focusing on being in the present is vital. This is what Buddhist philosophy is teaching me.  We do not live in the past or in the future. As a perpetual worrier, living in the present is not instinctual, though. I am always worrying about the future; any possible scenario of something that can go wrong, I have probably already thought about it, and schemed up a solution for it. And this can be a stressful way to live.

While it’s important and necessary to plan for the future, beyond saving for retirement and taking care of yourself physically and mentally, there is no actual benefit to worrying about the future when you cannot map it out by the nanosecond anyway. There’s a saying that goes something like, you plan and then life happens. I agree with this adage, especially as I like to plan and then I also like to rebel.

I suppose the good that's come out of all this worry about mortality is that it’s forced me to take a long hard look at what makes me happy as well as what makes me unhappy -- things that we don't generally evaluate very often. So often we’re in autopilot mode, such that we don’t really stop to think about whether this is what we want to be doing, what we should be doing, and whether these things provide us satisfaction or dissatisfaction.  (A few months ago I gave up my weekly personal to-do list for this very reason and I was amazed to see that I was actually more productive without it.) 

What I've realized is that when you cut out something that doesn’t give you happiness or satisfaction, you have much more time and energy to do other things that are relaxing and enjoyable and provide long-term gratification versus short-term gratification.  They also force you to be in the present.  For me, these things are doing yoga and meditating, listening to and cataloguing music, reading and writing. They are relaxing activities that make me feel like I'm, on even a very small level, growing, evolving, and not watching life passing me by.  But it's only since I've reflected on what it is that both relaxes me and gives me happiness, I've learned that these are the kinds of activities I enjoy doing when I’m simply too tired to do anything else.  When I'm not so tired, well, that's a different story.  I do like a little adventure in my life!

But satisfaction and happiness and living life to the fullest is about finding appreciation in the simple things too -- having dinner with a good friend, enjoying a crisp evening breeze after a hot summer day, listening to your favorite song on the radio, or smelling the peonies in your front yard. 

The other evening I read a parable from The Pocket Pema Chodron about there always being "tigers above, tigers below", which happened to be the perfect prescription for my current angst.  I'll end this post with an excerpt from the passage:

              Tigers above, tigers below.  This is actually the predicament that we are always in,
              in terms of our birth and death.  Each moment is what it is.  It might be the only
              moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we'll ever eat.  We could get
              depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness
              of every single moment of our life. 

Image Credit: Pinterest


Cheri said...

Absolutely beautiful. Sarah, I really feel we connect on so many levels. You could have been speaking on my behalf when you wrote this. It is a daily struggle to not get caught up in the coulda-shoulda-woulda and what-if's. Taking little moments to enjoy the little things truly is the doorway to a bigger, all encompassing happiness.

Sarah said...

You're so sweet! I'm glad you found it relatable. I wasn't quite sure how it would come off to an objective reader, but apparently it's something many of us experience. Life's definitely a journey, and it's important to make every single day (and every strawberry!) count.