It’s the first morning of the new year and I’m lying in bed shaking off the bubbly cobwebs of last night’s impromptu kitchen-party countdown. Every year right about now I join the chorus of North Americans committing to some sort of personal betterment. I’ve tried more winter cycling (sorry, I gave up below -10°C) and breaking up with my laptop (ended up marrying my smartphone instead). Should I renew the same old fear-fuelled vows that swell membership rolls at gyms and wellness centres? Get fit, eat healthier, detox. Sure, but it’s not quite… enough. Lying there with a gauzy haze of white light filtering through the window, I ask myself on loop, “What… do… I… want?” Two words keep seeping in: more love. Hmm. Really? I’ve got that nailed, don’t I? Loving partner, loving family, loving tribe of friends. But the phrase keeps coming back, all aglow like Michael Landon in Highway To Heaven about to walk into the frame dressed up as Buddha. Wait, that’s it.
I throw off the sheets and proclaim to my startled partner of 16 years: 2014 is the year of love! He looks a little bewildered but game. “Good idea!” See, everything we take for granted withers and eventually dies, right? Our relationships, our bodies, our planet. What, then, is the antidote to that disconnection that creeps in and lets us treat ourselves and our environment like shit? Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, in his recent book, Love Letter To The Earth, says it all comes down to mindfulness, and being truly present in the here and now, without judgment. That means getting quiet and being more aware of everything around us and inside us. Take it all in with more compassion, gratitude and, yeah, love: the trees outside your window, the breath filling your lungs, the guy strumming in the subway, the fresh lake water in your glass.
It may sound far out, but the whole mindfulness concept is no longer just the notion of temple dwellers and hippies. It’s turning up in Fortune 500 boardrooms and lunchrooms and on psych 100 curricula. JWT, one of the world’s largest marketing agencies, named mindful living one of the top 10 trends shaping our world. Says the JWT agency’s trend-spotting blog, “Consumers are developing a quasi-Zen desire to experience everything in a more present, conscious way. Once the domain of the spiritual set, mindful living is filtering into the mainstream, with more people drawn to the idea of shutting out distractions and focusing on the moment.”
If that’s true and mindful living sticks around longer than the decade-long resurgence of skinny jeans, then enviros, CEOs and politicians alike better get on board. As Hanh says, “Mindfulness is a truly healing balm that can help put an end to our sense of alienation and help us heal both ourselves and the planet.”
With that kind of balm, apply liberally and repeat.
A version of this article was first published in NOW Magazine.