The Secret of Sublime Living
When was the last time you watched the sunrise over the horizon or observed the changing colors of the clouds as the orange sun retreated at the end of the day?
When was the last time you laughed with your best friend or felt the grass, earth, or sand underneath your bare feet? The Japanese have a term, “awaremu,” for the sublime moment of perfection just before it fades. Sometimes translated as sensitivity or awareness, “awaremu” is often used when referring to the beauty of cherry blossoms in full bloom. Of course, the cherry trees will blossom again next year, but the distractions of everyday life can cause us to forget to slow down and enjoy them. We assume we will see them again but is that inevitable? Do we allow ourselves to slow down and pay close attention to the sublime pleasures of life?
Where I live, in Chicago, I never know which warm, sunny day in September will be the last one before the cold weather and the intensity of winter winds, sleet, snow, and cold sets in. I know summer will come around next year, but by about February, the wait can seem interminable! Each September, I try to remember to enjoy these sunny late summer days, as I know each may be the last of the season until next year.
It’s important to make a conscious choice to enjoy perfect moments, even if it means setting aside what we were planning for the day or delaying our next task. Many of the pleasures of life may not come around again. When someone dies, it’s natural to immediately think of the last time you saw that person. Did you know it would be the last time? Would you have done something differently had you known?
If we let our minds wander, and forget to focus on the sweetness of an experience, on the pleasures that life offers us here and there in moments of perfection, we may find ourselves missing out on sublime living. We like to believe another chance will come around, but when we prioritize what we feel we must do instead of prioritizing what we most value, it can seem as if someone else is writing our life story. Instead of living according to a story called, “I relish my time with my children” or “I express myself through my music and share it with others when I perform”—or some other positive story—we find ourselves part of a dissatisfying tale. We forget our power to be the storyteller and to determine how we will spend our minutes, hours, and days on earth.
Is there something you would do differently today if you knew this were your last chance to have that experience? Would you say something different as you kissed your loved one good-bye before hurrying off to attend to the items on your agenda? Would you take the time to truly enjoy the fresh food on your plate, or the opportunity to walk along your favorite path in the park? When you do experience pleasure, are you fully conscious of that experience before it gives way to the next experience?
The more you focus on what gives you joy and makes you feel vitalized, on what makes you feel a sense of purpose or meaning, the easier it will be to change your priorities and write a new story. Then, you can more quickly let go of the plot lines and events that seem scripted by someone else. The items on your To-Do list will get rearranged as you recognize the importance of enjoying the sunrise or sunset or taking the extra time to listen to a friend or loved one in need of attention. When you regularly consider, “What if this were the last time?” you may well find yourself relating to each pleasurable experience differently—for example, appreciating it more or engaging in it more mindfully.
As you think about the times when you weren’t aware that an enjoyable experience or opportunity wouldn’t come around again, it’s important not to become stuck in regret. Instead, make a new commitment to writing a more satisfying story for yourself and stepping into it—into a story in which the most joyful moments do not pass by too quickly or barely noticed.
What would your story look like if you regularly experienced “awaremu”? Would you live according to a new story called, “My life is an extraordinary adventure?” or “Being true to myself lets me play a role in healing others?” Sit for a moment and reflect on the story you would live if you remained fully present and conscious of the sublime moments of your life.
A version of this article appeared in Natural Awakenings.
Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, a businessman, and a shamanic practitioner, author, and philanthropist funding over 60 charities and more than 850 past and current Greer Scholars. He has taught at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and been on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being.