As we find ourselves busier and busier we chase after those rare moments of peace. Do you find yourself wishing you had more time for yoga, meditation, to get to those evenings of sacred music, or even to take a walk in nature and commune with mother earth? Instead you get caught up in all the things that must be done and you hurry from one task to the next, hoping that you can scrape together a few extra minutes to create that concentrated time for tranquility. But what if we actually have these things backward?
Peace is right up there with love and bliss that we are all seeking. One day we will reach a stage of enlightenment where we can experience these things, if only we can keep clocking in the time on all the things we need to do first and then make it to that class on spiritual enlightenment. Most of the time you are so exhausted from a day of chasing after time that you collapse on the couch, too tired for anything much more than a beer and the television. The next day starts with coffee to get you revved up for another day where you try to cram in as much as possible so that you can make that time for peace seeking activities. What if our need to get everything done is actually keeping us from the peace we seek? What if there is another way?
But I have things to do that I can’t walk away from: children, parents, and spouses to take care of. The food won’t cook itself and the house won’t get cleaner on its own! My job must be done to provide the money to keep all this going. I don’t have the luxury to walk away from it all go on a vision quest! That is the magic that I am about to share with you. What if we approach our days with a different kind of attitude? What if the peace we seek is hiding right there in our day?
As I pondered this question, I realized that Japanese culture can teach us a lot about peace and time. Of course, our image of Japanese culture is not really conducive to tranquility. What about those long commutes and people being shoved into crowded trains? Well, how do you think the Japanese maintain their sanity under such conditions?
I was born in Japan and lived there until I was two. I didn’t really have any memories of that time, but when I went to live there a few years ago, my early enculturation came flooding back to me. I felt deeply comfortable with the culture and the people. One area where this was not the case became clear to me when it was time to cross the street. I grew up in New York City and in NYC pedestrians do not wait for traffic lights. We are in too much of a hurry to pointlessly stand there waiting for the light if there are no cars coming. My walk to the US Embassy, where my husband worked, involved crossing one large street with a traffic light. I would witness dozens of Tokyoites stand, patiently waiting while no cars could even be seen for a half mile in either direction. At first I hesitated, then crossed alone. I needed to save the time! After about a year of this, all the while being incredulous that these people just stood there, patiently waiting, I decided to give it a go in the name of adapting to the local culture. What if I just stood there too, waiting for the light to show me the white walking man before I crossed? I tried it, standing there with my fellow citizens. We stood quietly side by side in the sun, just waiting. No decisions needed to be made, no dodging of cars necessary. The time would come, and we would then walk in safety, together, across the street. I started waiting every time, began to look forward to it. It was a delicious moment of quiet and peace in my busy day when I could enjoy not doing anything at all, with my comrades by my side. I couldn’t believe how enjoyable those moments were and I stood there laughing with happiness. What a simple and accessible pleasure!
Before you think I had simply gone off the deep end, let me share with you some parts of Japanese culture that reinforce what I had discovered on that street corner. Japanese traditional arts take ordinary activities and raise them to the level of a religious experience. Whether practicing flower arranging, tea ceremony or martial arts, each movement and each moment are held in concentration. Extrapolating from this, every action you take can be a form of meditation if you are living in the moment. When living in the moment, almost any activity becomes a pure moment of peace. Rather than rushing through our daily activities, our minds being with the next thing or next day, or even next week, we are able to rest and really be in that moment. You are folding the laundry- taking the time to appreciate the loved ones who clothes we have the honor to fold, or taking the time to enjoy the feeling of each article of clothing we are lucky enough to own. You are shopping for groceries, looking at all the beautiful colors and lovely products we can choose from. Each moment offers us an opportunity for enjoyment, peace and gratitude. The more often you remember to take in those moments, the more often you will remember to take them, until all your moments are filled with gratitude and joy. It is a simple practice, a simple decision to make. I hope that you will start today!