Being mindful of the present
We often multitask and we are too busy to appreciate the things around us. We need to pause and take stock.
BY: Gerard Ee
I have been asked many times why I always look happy and why there is always a smile on my face. My explanation is simple. Some of those enquirers who have tried my approach to life have found it effective in making their days happier ones.
I start each day filling myself with a sense of gratefulness, of being blessed. When I wake up in the morning I thank God for my sight, hearing and mobility. I feel so happy for those blessings. When I look at my spouse beside me and she is also well, I double my reasons for being grateful and happy. Then when I see my two children are also fine, my happiness quadruples.
Just imagine being a billionaire. Imagine waking up in total darkness. No matter how hard you try, you can see nothing. You have lost your sight. Your billions become insignificant. Your world turned upside down if all of a sudden you become blind, lose your mobility or even if you lose your hearing.
Working 20-hour days does nothing to enhance your preservation of health especially your sight, hearing and mobility. These gifts are invaluable. You are already rich, be grateful and be happy.
The underlying approach to my life is to live mindfully. I frequently read books and articles on Zen philosophy. I look for strategies which I can adopt to enhance my Catholic practices. The one major strategy which I have adopted is that of being in a state of mindfulness. I first encountered this strategy when I read “The miracle of mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist. This was years ago when I was still a partner at Ernst & Young.
I drank gallons of coffee a day. After reading the book I paused from my work every time I reached for my coffee mug. The first time I did it I became mindful of the taste of the coffee. All this while I could have been drinking mugs of waste water and would not have realised it. I began to relax during those mouthfuls of coffee, pausing to enjoy its taste. My consumption of coffee was reduced greatly. The mug of coffee lasted longer as I was no longer just gulping down the coffee.
Being mindful also boosted my productivity. I learnt that there was no such thing as multitasking. When we so call, multitask, we are merely switching from task to task. Often we drop the thread of what we are doing. We quickly forgot points of conversations made. We miss out on the meaning of words we skim through; reading whilst having that phone conversation, and perhaps being distracted by people in my room whilst doing all that. I changed all that. When I made my phone calls, I kept people outside my room. When I am discussing matters with people, I would transfer my calls to my personal assistant. When I was reading a report or working on a file, I would keep people away and not answer my phone. As a result, my productivity improved by a quantum leap.
Of course, practising mindfulness is an ongoing effort. From time to time I fell back to my old habit of trying to handle several things at the same time. The tyranny of the urgent over the important. It requires more effort now because I no longer have a personal assistant to screen my calls and keep people out of my room. There is really no better strategy than to work in blocks of time. Each block of time is reserved for just one type of task – making calls, speaking to people or working on a file.
The state of mindfulness keeps one objective. The present moment is always neutral, neither positive nor negative. It is for us to make the best use of the present moment. Once the present moment is pass, it is gone forever. So I avoid lingering on past memories or speculate on future events. The past is gone forever and is useful for lessons to be extracted from. The future is to be planned for and not forecasted on. We are not soothsayers so just plan for it and let the future unfold in due course.
Living in the present moment, being mindful, put us in control of our lives. It helps us to accept the things which cannot be changed whilst it provides us with the energy to make the changes which we want where it is possible to do so. Mindfulness helps us to break free from the past and not to be immobilised by worry about the future which may not turn out the way we imagine it to be. It frees the human spirit. It is true freedom, and one which we should all aim to acquire.
Gerard Ee turns 61 this year. He is an active ager and champions the cause of active ageing. He was a partner of Ernst & Young until he retired in 2005. Soon after retirement, Ee assumed the post of chairman of NKF. In his over 30 years of community service, he has contributed to the fields of disability issues, juvenile rehabilitation, education, transport and medical services. He is currently serving in committees dealing with the accountancy profession, accounting standards, public transport, medical services, education and welfare. He is also chairman of the Council for Third Age, an independent body that promotes active ageing. He said he plans to continue being active until “my heart stops beating”.