Today is the best day.
And other things to live by this year.
I never met my maternal grandfather — he passed away before I was born. He was a wise, kind man; a devout Christian who also encapsulated, beautifully, the concept of mindfulness — of living in the present — with the saying “Today is the best day.”
My mother has often said this to her children; for her, as well as my sister and me, it has become a sort of mantra, something to aspire to, to live by.
“Today is the best day,” means appreciating the here and the now and all the goodness that this contains. It involves acknowledging that we do not live in the past or the future; we occupy the present, and so we better darn well make the most of it. Happiness is not a destination you will reach, but something to be accessed now. We can so easily dwell on what we don’t have, or what we want but haven’t got yet (or had, but lost). “Today is the best day,” means letting go of those preoccupations, turning the focus on what you do have, on your life and its bounty today.
I’m not making a list of resolutions this year. What I do hope, though, is that I appreciate, every day — or even most days — that Today is the best day — and that I manage — again, on most days — to do the following:
Make the effort. While some of life is just about showing up, beautiful things happen — connection, fulfilment, growth and learning — when you you take responsibility and show initiative. This applies in all facets of your life — socially, on a sports field, at the office, at home.
Let go. (Or, as Taylor Swift would say, Shake It Off.) Experiencing critical thoughts and negative emotions — anger, frustration — is natural; so is caring about what people think of you. But holding on to these emotions and perceptions holds you back; they distract you from your own purpose. Take note, and then let them go. Live your life; because it belongs to you and nobody else.
Go with the flow. Don’t passively accept the things in your life, but don’t fight the unchangeable and inevitable either. Surfing lessons have taught me that getting into a flat panic when taking a tumble doesn’t do the least bit of good — all the thrashing in the world won’t get you back above water. Rather, acknowledge your environment, understand the challenges, and then respond to them. In other words: float, don’t flail.
Breathe. Something as simple as breathing has the power to shift your internal emotional landscape and boost your mental and physical wellbeing. On an Art of Living course, I recently learnt the Sudarshan Kriya, a daily breathing meditation (with many scientifically proven benefits). In the few weeks that I’ve been practising, I’ve found it to be an incredible tool — reducing anxiety, improving focus and helping to create a sense of balance. Breathing doesn’t make a shitstorm disappear; but it does help you to step back, and weather it better. Yoga, with its emphasis on the connection between the breath and different postures, is another powerful tool to get you to breathe, bringing bring balance and focus.
Make imperfectly, rather than nothing perfectly. I sometimes have the near-crippling worry that the words I write just aren’t good enough. The worry is almost strong enough to make me avoid writing altogether (a bit problematic, as this is how I earn my living). I have to constantly remind myself that it’s OK to create things that aren’t perfect; that it’s better to create something with flaws, than never attempt something at all. When we create, the sentences that fall flat teach us as much, if not more, as the ones which sing. We grow by doing; the more we do, the more we grow. Craft isn’t the end —it’s the in-between: it’s not a product, but rather a process, and one in which there should be joy (as Srikumar S. Rao will tell you in this incredibly inspiring presentation on work, happiness and the present).
Further reading and resources:
Sane New World by Ruby Wax is a funny, helpful and smart introduction to the science and psychology behind mindfulness, and provides some helpful tools to draw you into the present.
The Restful Mind by His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa is an easily understandable articulation of the philosophies underpinning mindfulness, as well as how they apply to the busyness of modern life. There are some lovely practical tools too.
The Mind Business — a 2012 article from the Financial Times (paywall) — explains how major US companies are using yoga, meditation and other mindfulness-inspired techniques to manage stress and improve the wellbeing of their employees. One of my favourite nuggets from the story is that research done by Duke University and Aetna showed that “one hour of yoga a week decreased stress levels in employees by a third, reducing healthcare costs by an average of $2,000 a year”.
The Art of Living does courses on meditation and happiness all over the world. There are many other kinds of meditation, though; some swear by Transcendental Meditation, for example (which also has scientifically proven benefits).