Back in 2017, Jovanna and I traveled through Asia, filming a spiritual-travel documentary series called “Paths Up The Mountain.”
We were interviewing gurus from various meditative traditions, to find out what Enlightenment and Spiritual Awakening actually ARE, what the feel like, and how normal people can experience them.
One day, after returning to New York, I was sitting on my front porch, editing the documentary videos with a young video editor named Ryan Striffolino. Ryan was a college student who happened to be taking courses on meditation & spirituality at the time.
While editing one of the interviews, Ryan looked up from his laptop, and asked me, “So, what was the ultimate answer? What are Enlightenment and Awakening all about?”
Without looking up from my laptop (and without having “the answer” fully formulated in my own head by that point), I replied distractedly: “Being fully present, in each moment.”
Ryan paused in thought for a moment. “Why do we need to be present again?”
I had to stop what I was doing, look up from my laptop, and take a moment to process Ryan’s question.
“Well, you don’t NEED to be present…”
“…but it feels good to be present.”
I felt like my answer was technically true, but still… weak.
Ryan looked off into the distance, thinking about it, and replied after a few moments with an unenthusiastic, “Oh. OK.”
And so we turned back to our laptops and went back to work on the videos.
Four years later…
While swaying in the hammock with my three-month-old daughter Sky, I was thinking about ideas for improving our business and fixing our financial situation.
“I need to remember to ship the mag to that lady! I need to remember to make instagram reels! I need to fix our Facebook ads! I need to hire someone to help me do all these things! I need to get more money so I can hire people!” All those wonderful thoughts that run through my head on a daily basis.
But then I remembered:
“This is supposed to be my Mindfulness of Baby time!”
I had recently added “Mindfulness of Baby” to my “Morning Practice” checklist, and I wanted to make sure to check it off my list for the day.
So I looked over at Sky Baby’s sweet little sleeping face. As much as I love to watch her sleep, I’d rather interact with her while she’s awake. So I asked myself… “Shouldn’t I utilize these precious moments to think about the business?” It seemed like a more efficient use of time than staring at a sleeping baby.
In that moment, Ryan’s words echoed in my mind: “Why do we need to be present again?”
I laid my head back in the hammock and gazed up into the gently swaying boughs of green and brown.
A bird cheeped, and flitted from one branch to another.
The sunlight sparkled down, filtered green and gold through the shifting leaves.
In that moment the answer came to me, like words whispered in my ear by a loving Universe:
Enjoy being alive.
Like so many moments before (and surely, many moments yet to come), I had forgotten to enjoy being alive 🤦🏻♂️
I sometimes get caught up in obsessive thinking, worrying, and planning — for hours, days, or weeks at a time — and completely forget that the point of life is to enjoy being alive.
By dropping the obsessive thoughts for a moment, I’d created the space for Joie De Vivre, the Joy of Life, to shine through… in just the same way that the golden sunlight shone through when the leaves moved out of the way.
By being “mindful” of my experience in the present moment, by being “present,” I was enjoying being alive.
But I realized too, in that moment:
The words “mindfulness” and “presence” are not actually the most helpful of words.
They are nice words to describe and refer to specific states of consciousness, but they are not really designed to induce the states to which they refer.
That was the problem that created a disconnect between Ryan and the word “presence.”
That was the problem that made me wonder whether or not it was worth “practicing mindfulness” when I could be thinking & planning and figuring out my business.
“Practicing mindfulness” sounds like a chore. It frames “mindfulness” as a “practice” — a self-care technique to check off my morning to-do list, to “help me” and “keep me grounded” through the rest of my day.
“Enjoy being alive” sounds much more appealing!
It’s not a chore. It needs no explanation. It needs no motivation, no discipline, no willpower. There is no questioning its value. There’s no need to ask:
“Why do we need to enjoy being alive again?”
When I think, “Oh, right, I forgot to meditate. I should practice mindfulness now…” I drop into my body and push myself into a state of sensory awareness. Yes, it’s a nice grounding practice, but it often comes without a smile. It comes with a sense of duty, or a sense of “This is good for me, I should do this.”
But when I think “Oh my gawd, I forgot to enjoy being alive 🙈” …the mindfulness and presence come rushing in all at once… along with a laugh and a smile and a sense of joy and relaxation and ease.
It’s also a lot easier to remain in the state of “enjoying being alive” than it is to “keep practicing mindfulness” or “stay in the present moment.”
Be Here Now
Enjoy Being Alive
They’re really all just different ways of saying the same thing. They all refer to the same states of consciousness.
But for me, I’ve found that the words I say to myself to trigger those states can make a big difference in the way I experience them, and in my ability to enjoy and maintain them.
So at least for me, I’ve crossed the words “Practice Mindfulness” off of my daily to-do list, and replaced them with “Enjoy being alive!”
If you sometimes struggle with the motivation and willpower to “meditate” or “practice mindfulness” or “be present” … try this experiment with me.
Instead of trying to use willpower and discipline to force yourself to meditate, be present, and “practice mindfulness”…
Just remember to take some time every day to enjoy being alive.
It’s well worth it.
And you don’t even need me to tell you that.