The Art of Living — Finding Balance in Its Most Authentic Sense
All of us adore life. Even though there are times of struggle and hardship, nobody wants to abandon it, right? Deep down everyone knows there is something magical, something magnificently precious about life. Every one of us is seeking — knowingly or unknowingly. Seeking to be happy, fulfilled, to derive something more from life. Not knowing exactly what it is.
The irony is that we falsely believe we know what that something is. Most often, career or financial success, an intimate relationship, changing where we live, becoming more fit or healthier, and so on. Yet, after we get what we thought we wanted, a moment comes when life becomes “not enough” again. A new sense of unfulfillment, restlessness, or unease overcomes us. We decide it’s the next thing that’s missing that we have to achieve in order to enjoy life more fully. Years pass in the pursuit of happiness. And we never fully feel we’ve arrived and have mastered life. We are not quite there yet. There is always a little something, something hidden, something missing that we need.
And this something was always within us. It was never in the next achievement. It was never in the fear of failure or in the desires, longings, worries, or pleasures. This something is:
👉 The ability to observe with detachment how our life unfolds.
👉 In this particular moment.
Let’s begin with the latter statement. Why in this moment? Because all we have is this moment. The past is gone and the future will be experienced as THIS MOMENT. The future is only imagined in the mind. When the future comes, it unfolds as the now. It’s such a simple truth, you cannot contemplate or question it. According to Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher:
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
Here’s my interpretation: Don’t worry about the future. It might or might not come. If it does come, it will be the present. So, stay in the present and address each arising situation with peace of mind. It is the best you can do.
Staying in the moment is sometimes not easy. From the time we wake up in the morning we get carried away by our minds. Running through the day, planning, and meeting deadlines, we are taken over by a continuous stream of thinking. We are always focused on the next moment or thing, never completely present and aware of the current moment. Let’s take a simple activity such as showering…
We go into the bathroom and shower automatically, processing work situations, tasks, old memories and emotions, stories, etc. Then we reach hastily for the bathrobe, and a slight feeling of guilt creeps in. We wasted so much time!
We took a shower and did not experience it. It’s like we were never there. The amount of time it took would remain the same, had we chosen to stay in the moment. The experience is what would have been different. What does that mean? If, instead entering with a distracted mind, we were fully focused on the showering itself − feeling the running water touching and gently massaging the skin; observing the movement of the hands applying soap and caressing body and hair; sensing the fragrances of the shampoo in the nostrils while rinsing the hair − completely immersed in the experience and aware of all sensations in the body. Allowing. empty, present.
Did you relate to the “showering example”? Yes? Then you probably agree we can experience one and the same situation in a completely different way depending on the attitude and state of mind we face it with. One thing is certain. It is more joyful to live fully aligned with the present moment.
Now, the art of living a more fulfilling life also requires the ability to observe with detachment how our life unfolds.
Living in the present moment is impossible without “detachment”. They go hand in hand. When we are absorbed by external situations and events, we become actors in a movie without knowing it is just that — a movie. Not knowing we are also the directors and the spectators. We become so completely taken by the roller coaster of events (at times good, at other times bad), that everything becomes critical. Stressful. We find ourselves in changing scenes of a drama, a romance, an adventure, a thriller… Yet if feels we are dragged into the next scene or event. It happens to us, almost forced on us. The movie is engaging, but life loses its lightheartedness, its joyfulness.
Now imagine going through life with a permanent sense of detachment — observing what comes and goes with a part of you always centered in the present moment. Suddenly events, people, and situations lose their grip on you, their ultimate importance. A peaceful ease and depth emerge. Marcus Aurelius points to the same thing (although he uses “perception” instead of “detached observation”):
“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”
PS: Other similar quotes by Marcus Aurelius you might enjoy:
“Things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it.”
“Everything you see will soon cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen.”