There’s one more practice that includes all of the others and it’s what I like to call being fully engaged in living. This practice helps us live that ideal life in the present moment instead of delaying our happiness until some future time when we’ve reached a weight or size goal. Being fully engaged in living means we take ourselves off of autopilot and pay attention to what we’re doing and to what’s right in front of us in the present moment.
How many times have you driven to someplace familiar and when you got there, you had no memory of the actual drive? We all do it. Our minds go a million miles away thinking of the next task, what has to be done that day, how we’re going to fit all in. Or we relive some past hurt or embarrassment for the millionth time. When I find myself lost in some rabbit hole of thoughts, I bring myself back, squeeze the steering wheel to feel it in my hands and think, “All I have to do right now is drive.”
Bringing myself back to the present moment is not only safer for me and for all the other drivers on the road, it allows me to let go of the stress of trying to manage the future or change the past. Not only is driving the only thing I have to do right now, it’s the most important thing I can do in that moment. I’m more careful to watch for cars and pedestrians that might cross in front of me without looking. I take more time to stop carefully and I’m more cautious when changing lanes. I am much more relaxed and less aggressive when I fully engage in driving and leave everything else for its own time and place.
I realize that what I’m describing is the same thing as being mindful. I prefer the language of being fully engaged in life because I truly believe that the opposite of disease is life. Health is the result of being fully engaged and present to the life right in front of us. When we choose to engage, we are making an affirmative decision to live. That life-affirming choice is positive by nature. When we disengage from our lives we are choosing a slow death by boredom and disinterest.
Let me give you an example. Doing the dishes has never been one of my favorite household chores. Spoiler alert: I do not have a favorite household chore! But let’s just talk about the dishes right now. I do love to cook and I love to have a clean workspace and clean pots and pans to cook with. So, when it’s time to do the dishes, I give them my full attention. I notice the feel of the soapy water. I make sure each item is thoroughly cleaned and rinsed completely. I carefully stack the clean dishes to make the best use of the limited space I have on the counter.
I may not get to a place where I enjoy doing the dishes, but by giving them my full attention, I am committing to my life. I am acknowledging that I will cook again, that I’ll take care of my nutrition needs, and that I want to live the best life possible. Washing dishes is part of that life and it deserves my energy and my attention.
I have the choice to complain the whole time I’m washing dishes. I can be grumpy and angry that I don’t have a dishwasher in this apartment, or that I live alone so there’s no one else to take their turn. But that choice would short circuit my happiness when my whole motivation is to live a happier life.
The more we engage in living, the happier we are in each moment, and the happier we are, the easier it is to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves. Sticking to a food and exercise plan is so much easier when we are fully engaged. When we embrace the food plan of our choice and give it our full attention, we are more aware of which choices bring us joy and which ones don’t. We are tuned into our minds and our bodies, noticing the feedback we’re getting from them, and making adjustments that feel better.
The same thing goes for movement and exercise. Maybe your exercise of choice is walking. Then notice the surroundings, tune into your body and notice how it feels to be moving. Listen to the sounds around you, whether you’re inside or outside. Maybe you go to the gym. Again, tune into your body. Listen when it tells you to move on to the next machine. Pay attention to the people around you, whether or not you engage in conversation. Acknowledge their presence and honor their gym-journey whatever it may be.
To be fully engaged in life we don’t have to be skilled at meditation. We don’t have to learn to count our breath. We don’t have to be anything but conscious and aware. All we need to do is notice. There is a myth in our culture that we can be good at multi-tasking. The truth is, we might be splitting our attention between more than one thing at a time, but we’re shorting at least one of those things. Each thing we’re doing only has a fraction of our attention. Depending on what fraction of attention each thing gets, the resulting quality is better or worse, and none of them are the best we’re capable of.
This life we’re living is a feast laid out before us. All of the nourishment we could possibly imagine is available to us. There is nourishment for spirit, mind, heart, and body. We can choose to gorge on one type of nourishment and ignore the rest. We can nibble at the edges of each type of nourishment, never getting the full benefit of any of it. Or we can choose carefully and consciously, creating the meal that supports us and nourishes us completely. Then, when we sit down to the Main Meal of our lives, fully engaged, we are tapping into joy and living our best lives in every moment.