Is the Stove On?
I remember freshman year at college, sitting in my first philosophy class. The professor was utterly granola from his ponytail all the way down to his Birkenstocks. I was both completely out of my element and completely enchanted. I was ready for the teacher to spout some wisdom that was worthy of the Dalai Lama.
Meditation, Eastern philosophy, and mindfulness were not as mainstream as they are today, and I was about to get my first taste of Eastern profundity. I was humming with excitement.
A kid in the class raised his hand and asked, “What exactly is Zen?” I waited with bated breath as the teacher sat cross-legged on his desk in the front of the room and answered, “Zen is never having to double check to see if you turned the stove off.” Huh? We all looked around at each other. What? I don’t think Confucius ever said anything like that.
The older I get though, the more it makes sense. I don’t know how many times I’ve been doing several things at the same time, and doing none of them well, I might add, when I realize I forgot something. It’s usually a key ingredient in the dinner, or I forgot to return an email or phone call for work. One time (well, maybe more than once) I forgot to pick up my daughter from school or an activity.
However, I have also had a single moment which was so perfect that if that was the only moment I ever got to live, it would be enough. It was nothing exciting or thrilling. It was a moment I could have easily missed. I was walking down a street shuffling through some fallen leaves as a peaceful breeze rustled the ones still on the trees. What made it so perfect was that I was completely and utterly IN that moment. Aware of the sights, sounds, smells, even the very feel of the air. I paused, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes. I lived that moment.
I wish I could have more of those moments. And I could if only I would allow myself. But I don’t. Like most people I get caught up in thinking about the work that is waiting for me: what is on my calendar for tomorrow, the weekend, next month. I wonder how many moments I’ve missed in the grand scheme of things.
The sad thing is that the moments are there. I don’t have to go out and find them. I don’t have to purchase anything. I just have to stop and enjoy them.
The Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, “We spend a lot of time looking for happiness when the world right around us is full of wonder. To be alive and walk on the Earth is a miracle, and yet most of us are running as if there were some better place to get to.”