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Seeing Beauty in the Ordinary
by Barney Battles
We all know how it feels. The second we open our eyes in the morning, our minds begin to fill with ideas, plans, worries. While brushing our teeth, our minds are at the office. While eating breakfast, we scan e-mail on our smartphones. While driving down the street, we hear the computerised voice of GPS and dream of getting away from it all. A Caribbean island, perhaps...
The truth is, chronic distraction is a major source of human stress and unhappiness, which in turn are a major source of trouble for the entire planet. Why is it so hard for us to notice the splendor of ordinary things, and to be aware of the present moment? What are the rewards of being able to do so? Finding the answers may be not be as hard as it looks, provided we ask ourselves the right questions.

Does happiness exist in the future?

Asking this question can get us thinking in a different way. Spiritual teachers down through the ages have suggested that the future is merely a figment of our imagination. According to these teachers, the present moment is all that exists or will ever exist. This may be true, but taking someone’s word for it isn’t going to do the trick—our own direct experience is what counts. Most of us know from experience that when our minds are quiet, things we didn’t notice before become bright and beautiful. The smile of a stranger, or the passing landscape on a train. When we bring our awareness to the present, we realise that we don’t need a constant stream of work and entertainment in order to feel happy and fulfilled. We understand intuitively that happiness exists only in the present.

Is there a feeling that lasts forever?

Another way to shift our perspective is the consider the possibility that no feeling lasts forever. Even many of our troubles from last week, now that they have been dealt with, seem far away. This is even more true when we consider the past year, or decade, or century. Statistically speaking, most of our worries amount to very little! What seems to be hugely important one day is all but forgotten the next. When we see our everyday obligations from this larger perspective, the beauty of the ordinary finds a space to shine through.
How can I live without plans?

In this world, there will always be a practical need for thinking ahead. Fortunately, we are equipped to deal with this while also living in the moment. The trick is to understand that who we really are is bigger than any of our worldly concerns. When we live for the future, our problems and concerns seem bigger than us, and the beauty of the ordinary is hidden from our eyes.
Is the cure gradual, or instantaneous?

Making a New Year’s resolution to live in the moment is a problematic approach! It could be that the only way to access the beauty of the present moment is to plunge in—right now. Unlike earning a degree or leaning a foreign language, living in the moment is better described as jumping immediately into a pool of clear water withing yourself. This wisdom has been repeated countless times, but perhaps no one said it better than Albert Einstein: “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”

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