5 Simple Ways I’ve Learned To Be Actively Present In My Day-To-Day
Sometimes, I feel like a zombie on autopilot.
But instead of looking to feast on living, unsuspecting humans (or suspecting — a zombie isn’t picky), my sole mission is to optimize every facet of my life, as much as possible. Dead from the inside out, roaming the scorched earth in search of life hacks and self-help advice to make me better, stronger, faster. Want to reason with me? Good luck. Convince my boss to let me take a week of vacation? Sorry, that won’t satiate my appetite. Gift a pair of tickets to my favorite band? I might blink twice to let you know that somewhere, underneath the rot of my exterior and the stench of death, a part of my consciousness is trapped inside — but that’s all you get.
The “walking dead” is not just the name of a popular television show. It’s a real, growing fear of the collective conscious. As Chuck Klosterman aptly noted:
Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed.
The problem with being a zombie is that, of course, it’s often too late if you’re already a zombie. Your independent thought is gone. The chance of reasoning with yourself is zero. You are your mission, and your mission is to consume the living in order to survive. Fortunately for us, though, we only feel like a zombie and we have not yet succumbed to such a monotonous fate. There are antidotes available that will remind us the importance of being self-aware in the present moments as we experience them.
Here are a few that work, should you take the recommended daily dose.
1. Wake up slowly (or don’t wake up quickly).
I mean it. Set your alarm 10, 15, 30 minutes earlier than you need to wake. I didn’t understand how much this improved my attitude for the remainder of the day, until I repeated this for a month. The times that I hit “snooze” instead of rolling out of bed, I felt frantic and disheveled, worried that I wouldn’t make it to work in time, hardly enjoying my sacred cup of morning coffee. Now, I wake up an hour and 30 minutes before I have to make breakfast and take out my dog. That was never my intention, but it has become my reality.
At least four out of five times during the weekday, my morning involves some version of this: my alarm notification sounds at 5:00 a.m.; I frantically wake and race to the edge of my bed (where my cell phone sits on a nearby dresser); I turn off the alarm before my dog wakes up and demands to be fed; I awkwardly maneuver over the foot of the bed (not to disrupt my sleeping partner); throw on an old pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt; use the washroom and stare at myself in the mirror as I wash my hands; enter the office through our jack and jill bathroom; safely escape to the hallway where I tip-toe to the kitchen, past the bedroom; boil water in the kettle and pour coffee beans into the french press; feed my rabbit; pour the best cup of coffee I’ll taste all day; slink back into the office to read or write.
2. Always be in the middle of a book.
Blog posts, unfortunately, bear the risk of looking, sounding, and reading the same if you read too many in one sitting. Podcasts, while wonderful to passively listen to while cooking, commuting, or doing other routine tasks, do not require the concentration needed when reading a book that will challenge everything you once held to be true.
Books are different.
Fiction: full of winding storylines, complex characters, and syntax that can move you to tears. Non-fiction: memoirs of overcoming formidable challenges, guidance on how to become more compassionate, lessons from those who had everything and lost it all to greed. I think of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Margaret Atwood, and Jonathan Lethem, authors that remind me of the power of the written word. We are no longer in school, the point of reading books is no longer to receive gold stars or an “A” in a class. It’s to develop compassion for yourself and for others — to acknowledge the common ground that we have with our neighbors. I know no better value than one receives than reading a good book.
3. Shove your phone in a drawer or in your coat pocket during dinner.
I have limited time with my loved ones. I don’t mean in the morbid sense, although that’s certainly true, but my partner works in shifts: four days on (two day shifts; two night shifts), four days off. Each shift is twelve hours. As a result, we do not spend as much time together as we’d like.
The gift of undivided attention is a symbol of love and respect. Our dinners are never long — half an hour at most. But, absent the pings that light up our screens, thirty minutes is sometimes enough when time is scarce. An innocent kind of intimacy. Slowing down and practicing small acts of gratitude is important to our health and happiness. Of course, there are hundreds of other things that you could be doing, but it doesn’t mean you should. Understand that your time is limited. It’s not about doing more. It’s about living well. And that starts with appreciating the wonderful things in your life.
4. Commit to daily walks through your neighborhood. Use that time to reflect upon yourself, as well as the history of your environment.
I live in Toronto: a city known for its diversity, semi-useable streetcars, and former Mayor, Rob Ford. I take the subway almost every day. I work a stone’s throw away from the hub of Yonge-Dundas Square. Like a good Torontonian, I lament about the inefficiencies of the Toronto Transit System, attend at least one concert each summer at the Molson Amphitheatre, engage in chit-chat about the Blue Jays (in which Jose Bautista almost always comes up), and make it a point to frequent the CNE in August despite having a negative experience every time.
Unfortunately, these rituals never gave way to a real education about Toronto’s serpentine past. The urban planning of the neighborhoods. The design of the subway system. The bathhouse raids that led to the trepidation of the queer community on Church.
Now, in tandem with my education (thank you, Shawn Micallef, Jane Jacobs, Stephen Otto, and John Lorinc), I have a sense of wonder as I meander through the spaces and places so familiar to me. I don’t just enjoy the basic experience of stepping outside and walking amongst nature and neighbors to the tune of The War on Drugs, I also appreciate the historical evolution of everything I see, smell, and feel. My daily walks are no longer simply about slowing down (although that’s important). These walks encompass a sense of respect for those who came before me, who frequented the parks that I now frequent, and fought for a thriving, diverse community.
5. The Privilege of Caring for Another
The last measure of prevention is service to others. Halting symptoms of zombiehood (glazed eyes, indifference to external circumstance, unquenchable thirst for brains), requires that we look beyond our personal circumstances. Whether it’s caring for a pet, plant, or stranger, small actions of care each and every day does wonders for the spirit.
When I’m frustrated — the subway had another delay, a client directed their frustrations unfairly towards me, the coffee I just purchased slipped from my grasp on to the pavement in front of my office building — I think of my dog, who dutifully licks my arm when I sit beside him. Or my partner, who strategically cooks her heavenly lasagna when I’ve had a particularly difficult day. Small acts of kindness can radically improve our days. Why not do the same for others? Purchase a cup of coffee for the transient person on the corner. Ask someone who is visibly upset whether they are okay. Offer to do the household chores that your partner enjoys the least.
I am convinced that there is beauty in the everyday. But it is up to us to see it. Beholden to our mundane demands and unmoved by the box in our living room that an apocalypse is forthcoming, we fall prey to zombiehood. But fight the urge. Round up the neighbors. Furnish yourself with critical thinking, self-awareness, and a commitment to service. Defend the living like our lives depend on it.
Jennifer Chan is a lawyer and blogger. You can find her at jennifertchan.net where she focuses on connecting the dots between work, money, and happiness. She resides in Toronto, Canada with her girlfriend, full-figured rabbit, and deaf & blind cockapoo.
Image via Unsplash