Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

Media, Mindfulness, and Personal Meaning

Twitter, tigers, and what’s important

Time is precious. It is something that we, in our arrogance, often believe is infinite. In fact, the end of time—at least this time as we are experiencing it—is the one thing in our lives of which we can be absolutely confident. So, why, then do we insist on spending that time consumed with how many followers we have on Twitter, or perusing the latest Google+ post from Mashable, rather than being actually engaged in our lives?

There is a teaching about a woman being chased by tigers. The faster the woman runs, it seems, the closer the tigers get. Finally, she rounds a bend and finds herself standing on the edge of a cliff. Seeing nowhere to go, she grabs the vines at the cliff’s edge and swings herself over. As she begins to descend she looks down, only to find more tigers. She stops and, lifting her gaze, spies a small mouse gnawing at the vine to which she clings. Next to the mouse is a lush clump of strawberries growing from the cliff face. She reaches up, and taking one, sinks her teeth into the moment.

This morning I was paying more attention to the tigers than the strawberries. Rather than being fully engaged in the fleeting moments before me—moments that, for their own reasons, are even more precious than most—I had my face buried in a screen. A none too subtle redirection reminded me of a client I had some time ago whose primary reason for divorcing her husband was his unflagging attention to his Blackberry, and his increasingly flagging attention to her as a result. The moment prompted me to begin thinking about just how much distraction we volunteer for, and how much it impacts what we have come to consider meaningful in our lives.

Each moment is what it is, and it is what we make of it. Deciding what to fill that moment with is the challenge of living a life fully engaged. This is much less a question of labeling something a “good fill” or a “bad fill” than it is of fully committing to the object of our attention. That commitment takes a bit of introspection to be truly authentic.

The genesis of this introspection is a simple question we often fail to ask: “What’s important?”  More, it’s a question of what’s important in that moment—tigers or strawberries. Surely, the tigers bear some attention, but they are inevitable in their own way. We may, on the other hand, only get one strawberry and, should we miss it, the moment is lost.

We are distracted from examining our values and motives by choice. No one told us to read our email first thing in the morning, but that scrambled priority keeps us from actually tasting our coffee, or having a conversation with our partner, or taking the dog out and enjoying the sun rising over the eastern ridge. That is why you bought the house in the first place, isn’t it—the view that you no longer notice?

And that’s the point—it’s not a value judgment, but a judgment of value. The tigers will always be there—probably long after we are gone. Strawberries left unattended, on the other hand, wither on the vine.

© 2013 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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