Friday, March 30, 2012

Fully Present

Do you remember the story of Jeremy Bentham of London, England? He died in 1832 and left his estate to University College London. But he also stipulated that his body be embalmed, dressed up and brought in to preside over the annual meeting of university administrators. His preserved body is still there today, displayed in a glass cabinet. And it is apparently still wheeled into the annual meetings. For years, the secretary of the board added to the minutes of each session, "Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting."

I've KNOWN people like that -- present but not voting. Too often, I am one of them. These people are alive, but they are not really living. As Benjamin Franklin may have put it, they died around 25 but won’t be buried until they are 75. They live without passion. They seem to have forgotten what thrill and wonder life can hold. They get through each day, but seldom experience anything like deep joy. They’re alive, but barely.

Jeremy Bentham, who every year is present but not voting, reminds me of a story from Jewish humor. A widow spoke to friends about her departed husband. "Sidney thought of everything," she said. "Just before he died, he called me to his bedside. He handed me three envelopes. ‘I have put all my last wishes in these three envelopes,’ he said. ‘After I am dead, please open them and do exactly as I have instructed. Then I can rest in peace.’”

She explained the contents of the envelopes. “The first envelope contained $5,000 with a note: ‘Use this money to buy a nice casket.’ So I bought a beautiful mahogany casket with a soft lining. The second envelope contained $10,000 and a note: ‘Use this for a nice funeral.’ So I used it for flowers, food and music. I know it would have made him happy.’ The third envelope contained $25,000 with a note: ‘Use this to buy a nice stone.’”

At that point, the widow held up her hand and pointed to her finger, adorned with a lovely diamond ring. "So, do you like my stone?"

It WAS a nice stone. She knew that life was for the living.

Diamonds are not exactly my idea of living fully, but the story makes a good point. I want to do my best to enjoy life while I have it.

I think actor Maurice Chevalier had the right idea. He once said, “I never eat when I can dine.” Do you know the difference? Eating is doing the necessary. Getting it done. I eat because I am hungry, then I can get on with what I was doing. Or I eat WHILE I’m doing something else – like writing or driving or watching television. If there is any pleasure to be found in the meal, I likely don’t notice it. My attention is on something else.

But dining is different. Dining is the ENJOYMENT of eating. When I dine, I pay attention to what I am doing. I taste the foods – I savor them. I notice the differences between flavors and I eat more slowly. I also pay more attention to the people who are sharing my meal. I interact with them. I am fully present during the meal and I may even reflect back on it later in the day. I admit, I eat often, but I don’t dine nearly enough.

I want to dine more and eat less. I don’t want to just show up for life; I want to be part of it. I want to worry less about such things as where I live, and more about living where I am. And at the end of my life, I want to say that I always tried to be fully present.

-- Steve Goodier

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Image: Forlani


~ Sil in Corea said...

You touched my heartstrings in this essay, Steve! I so often fritter away my time, playing games on the computer, the queen of procrastination. ;-) The sun is shining, the birds are singing, so what am I doing inside? Thank you! I'm going for a walk!

Hugs, ~ Sil in Corea

Kate said...

What a great message today! Recently I sold my photography studio after 25 + years of building it to be a fine little business. Yesterday was my last "required" day of helping in the transition to the new owners. I have been pondering the days ahead. One decision that I have now made is that no matter what path I choose, I will be present in my own life and I will vigorously live the years ahead. Thank you for this reminder message!

Steve Goodier said...

I think it really begins with a decision to be more present. One we make and re-make every day. So, I think that today I will dine, at least once.

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