Just 12 minutes ago I was sitting on a bench reading a short piece by Paolo Coelho, which I have pasted blow:
“Manuel needs to be busy. Otherwise he feels that life has no meaning, that he is wasting his time, that society has no need for him, nobody loves him, nobody wants him.
So as soon as he wakes up e has a whole set of tasks to do: watch the news on the television (something may have happened during the night), read the newspaper (something may have happened yesterday), ask his wife not to let the children be late for school, get the car, a taxi, a bus, the subway, but always concentrated, looking into the vacuum, consulting his watch, if possible making a few calls on his cell phone – and making sure that everyone sees that he is an important man, a man useful to the world.
Manuel arrives at work and starts to pore over the pile of paper that awaits him. If he is an employee, he does everything possible for the boss to notice that he arrived on time. If he is the boss, he sets them all to work right away; if there are no important tasks to do, Manuel will see to developing some, creating some, implementing a new plan, establishing new lines of action.
Manuel goes to lunch – but never alone. If he is the boss, he sits down with his friends, discusses new strategies, speaks badly of the competitors, always keeps a card hidden up his sleeve, complains (with a touch of pride) about being overworked. If Manuel is an employee, he also sits down with his friends, complains about the boss, says he is working a lot of overtime, claims in despair (and with a touch of pride) that so much at the firm depends on him.
Manuel – boss or employee – works the whole afternoon. From time to time he looks at his watch, it’s time to go home but he still has a detail to solve here, a document to sign there. He is an honest man; he wants to justify his salary, what others expect of him, the dreams of his parents who went to such great pains to give him the necessary education.
Finally he returns home. He takes a shower, gets into some comfortable clothes and sits down to have dinner with his family. He asks the children about school, his wife how she spent the day. Now and again he talks about his work, just to serve as an example – because he does not like to bring worries home. Dinner over, the children – who are not the least bit interested in examples, duties or any such things – immediately leave the table and go to sit in front of the computer. Manuel too goes to sit down in front of that old apparatus from his childhood called the television. Again he watches the news (something may have happened in the afternoon).
He always goes to bed with some technical book on the bedside table – whether boss or employee, he knows that the competition is great and that if you do not keep up, you run the risk of losing your job and then have to face the worst of all curses: unemployment.
He talks to his wife for a while – after all, he is a gentle, hardworking and loving man who cares for his family and is ready to defend it in any circumstances. Sleep comes soon and Manuel falls asleep knowing that the next day he will be very busy, so he needs to recoup his energies.
That night Manuel has a dream. An angel asks him: “Who do you do this?” He replies that he is a responsible man.
The angel then asks: “Would you be able to stop just for fifteen minutes during the day and look at the world, at yourself, and just do nothing?” Manuel says that he would love to, but he does not have the time for that. “You’re trying to fool me,” says the angel. “Everybody has the time for that, what they lack is courage. Work is a blessing when it helps us to think about what we are doing. But is becomes a curse when its only use is to prevent us from thinking about what our life means.”
Manuel wakes up in the middle of the night, covered in a cold sweat. Courage? How can a man who sacrifices himself for his family not have the courage to stop for fifteen minutes?
Best to go back to sleep, it’s only a dream, such questions lead nowhere, and tomorrow is going to be a very busy day.”
I was struck by this piece and immediately put down my book of stories. I set it aside and said to myself: “I’m going to see how long I can do nothing at all.” I had never posed this challenge to myself before. Guess how long I made it. 8 minutes!!! That’s nothing! However, I learned some very interesting things along the way.
The first thing that I noticed was that as soon as I put my book down, I was bored. Within three second, the most interesting thing in my life was my breath and so I breathed. I took deep breaths, noticing the cool air flowing in through my nostrils, filling my lungs, and then pausing before flowing back out, warm this time. After I few deep breaths, I started to notice that my body was uncomfortable. My left cheek was shaking and I let the tension leave my body. My legs were extended too far, so I crossed them under me. My back, uncomfortable against the bench. I noticed my body and the sensations happening inside myself.
And then, I felt the sun hit my face and I was suddenly hot. It was a cold morning and all of sudden I was sweating. I took off my sweatshirt. I heard the sounds of the birds and of the people passing by. Loud birds and loud people, quiet birds and quiet people. The breeze shimmered through the air and carried with it a cool touch, balancing the hot sun. I noticed finally that the sun had found its way to my face through a small break in the leaves of the tree above me. The sun, so hot, would be there for only a few moments and then would pass. It was uncomfortable and yet fleeting. I realized that all experiences are like the sun as it passes through the leaves, one moment touching us and the next leaving us in shade again. Those fleeting moments, in their brevity, are sacred. Each moment of our lives, no matter the level of discomfort, joy, or sadness is fleeting and deserves attention, presence, and gratitude.
On another note, meditation has always been hard for me and today when I simply decided to actively stop, it naturally happened. I followed my breathing and scanned my body. I noticed the continuously changing nature of life and was grateful for it. Meditation is so often prescribed, when it is the absence of prescription. By simply pausing, one can notice the beauty and brevity of life.