The art of living. When you see it, you recognize it. It’s the simplest of actions and the healthiest of emotions. It’s living in balance with the present. It’s an old man sitting on a bench tossing breadcrumbs to birds. It’s me as a child looking out my bedroom skylight to watch the stars, the Milky Way, and the Aurora Borealis. It is you, eating a tangerine one section at a time.
There is art in living. Like artwork it needs to be practiced and seasoned with awareness. When I exercise this skill—treating living as a thing of beauty—my journal entries are rich and rainbow-y, and I’m pleased with myself. Too often my journal notes are boorish. April 4: A windy day. Got teeth cleaned, bought graduation cards for Alex and Sara. Finished the laundry with time to continue reading, The President is Missing. Reading my journal on death’s bed, I’ll skim over the April 4 entry. Better yet, I’ll edit it out of my journal jrnl.com (Online Journal) before that final day. Why waste my last hours remembering a To-Do day, hopscotching from one thing to another with no surprises or delights mentioned? Yes, we get our teeth cleaned and wash our clothes, but then to write about it and relive it? No no no. I wish to read about days filled with moments and emotions that leave an imprint on my heart.
After our nine-year-old granddaughter visited us in Florida, my journal entry expressed an over the moon tenderness. I’d succeeded in taking a four-day photowalk without a camera. Rereading how I spent those days brings back the feelings of love, practicing the art of living. On April 28, I wrote:
Morning sounds, the pitter patter of size four feet
What are we doing today, Amma?
Laughing with Ms. Janet and loving her bird
Chased by the waves
“This one almost got me, Amma!”
Gifts, seashells, and a card for Mother’s Day
Learning with Ms. Deborah, art on canvas
White furry blanket—reading
Delights in retelling
Discovering turtle secrets, a hug from Ms. Becky
Brushing teeth and afterthought
One more trip out of be
Tears on boarding
Inner strength found
Amma hopes she got her aisle seat
Until next time, little Edie.
The art of living is living whole and paying attention. It’s treating a flight as a brief retreat in the sky. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, but sit and watch the clouds and the blue sky. It’s how Buddhists explain the nature of our mind; there may be dark clouds passing across the sky, but the blue sky is always there.
That’s not what I do when I fly. I sigh and look at my watch again and again. Then just as Tim dozes off I tap his shoulder, “what time do you have on your watch?” I do sudoku and try reading. Then, I check out a movie. Never anything of interest. This behavior is not for lack of knowing better or never experiencing the art of living. I seem to hurry and scurry through life in search of contentment, which happens to be a perfect formula for making sure I’m never settled or content. The culprit is my undisciplined mind like a dog that pulls at the leash, urging the owner to get to the next fire hydrant or tree. The owner never trained her dog to ignore the smells and other people, and just walk.
Tim and I wish (and try) to spend more of the time we have left as if walking through an art gallery or a botanical gardens, aware and appreciative. Meeting friends for dinner, we leave our phones at home, most of the time. Well, at least half of the time. After all, we are not emergency-room doctors permanently on call, I tell myself for the umpteenth time. So why rush from A to B like people searching for a prescription promising happiness. We agree that treating each day as a Monet makes us feel less numb and more alive. While loading the dishwasher, instead of thinking about the cup of tea or a glass of wine that awaits us, we should slow down and pay attention when we fold the kitchen towel in half and half again. If we can’t take our time doing the dishes, the chances are that while we drink our tea or sip our wine, we are thinking of the next thing; like a dog going from tree to tree.
Gary Woodland won the men’s 2019 US Open. It was his first major tournament win. His father said in an interview that he’d never seen his son so relaxed in a competition, “He walked with his hands in his pockets.” I’d caught a glimpse of Woodland doing just that and thought, he sure looks calm, dropping putts in the cups without concerns about the next tee-shot. When we see people engaged in the art of living, we recognize it. One day, sitting in a rocker telling his grandkids about winning the US Open, I bet he will remember every hole and incredible sand trap shots that landed close enough for a birdie.
The art of living means that I practice digital silence and don’t take everything for granted. To remind myself, I should set my phone alarm to go off in the morning, afternoon, and evening. When it goes off, ask myself, “Are you practicing the art of living?” This morning, I almost stepped on a moth on the sidewalk. But I didn’t. I bent down and took a closer look. Although I didn’t pick it up and place it in a safe spot, I didn’t trudge by it mindlessly. It’s a start. Tonight when I write in my journal, I will describe its iridescent eyes and brownish wings.
I don’t have answers for how to make our journey into the art of living. It’s a simple concept but not easy to practice. Somewhere along the way we lost our childlike simplicity, surprise, and curiosity for everything under the sun. The closest I come to answering it for myself is to mindfully look for all that awes me, a hail storm, the feeling the first cup of coffee delivers, or early morning silence. To step away from “hurry” and refocus so I can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.