Many people say time speeds up as we age. The long summer holidays of childhood seemed to be endless, but as our minds filled with more and more concerns, life began to rush by. As we age we find ourselves spending less and less time in the present. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could spend our lives, from now on, without worrying, but instead truly experiencing every moment life lays before us?
Experiencing a true present is something most of us find difficult. Even when on holiday we often find miles of countryside have slipped by unseen while we focus on our inner chatter, consisting of plans and past regrets and reliving scenes of our lives, or analysing people’s motives and intentions. The overactive mind is often seen as a scourge of Western culture, but the Oriental mind is just as susceptible to overload. A Tai Chi master from a Beijing martial arts school was asked if she drifted off during her movements to think about having forgotten to pop into the bank. She replied that although she manages to be totally into her routine thanks to her training, she has noticed that since the advent of the car, people in China are also beginning to fall victim to a racing mind and an addiction to getting ahead. “It was better when we had bicycles,” she said. “People were more mindful. They would step back and let others pass. They were more aware of the day as it passed.”
An overactive mind can hinder us from getting enough sleep and in its worst forms is a symptom of hypermania. Racing thoughts can prevent us from focusing on one topic or activity; they tire us out, increase anxiety, cause stress and increase the speed at which we live – and age. Slow breathing, writing out thoughts, exercise or mindfulness meditation can all help to slow us down and bring focus. When the moment we are in is a painful one, then we can direct the mind and the body towards more peaceful thoughts, by breathing through the pain and remembering that everything must pass. The worst scenario is that we will never feel good again; now how likely is that?
It is part of the human condition to have an active mind, but it is also part of our heritage to be able to still that mind and focus on the now. Once broken, the habit of constantly worrying and projecting will soon begin to fade and it is never too late, whatever our culture and heritage. We must remember that in the spiritual life we are always at the beginning, whoever we are.