Let me start with some background information.
First, Jellyfish and I do not go together. Not happily anyway. When I was quite young and out on a boat with my family and some of their friends, I saw one of our party – a grown man – jump screaming out of the water because he got stung by a jellyfish. That memory has affected my entire relationship with the sea. Something, I would otherwise really treasure.
Second, I have an awful memory. Over the years, I have realized I do not take in a lot of sensory information from my experiences. When I traveled with friends, they would talk about sights sounds, and smells they noticed. They could see beautiful aspects of architecture, or would take stunning photographs having noticed a colorful bug on a leaf. They remembered people’s names and faces, and recalled what happened in a way that would make me wonder, “had I been there at all?”
Third, when I turned 40, despite having EVERYTHING, and being someone considered to have everything, I felt empty. I thought “Is this all there is?”. This year, my sister introduced me to Glennon Doyle and her book Untamed, and guess what? In her opening chapter she wrote, “Isn’t life meant to be more beautiful than this?” I heard my own angst echoed in someone else’s life and, she said, she and I were not alone in feeling this way.
Back to the Jellyfish.
A few days ago, I was walking out on a rocky pier. As per usual, I was lost in thought. I sat out at the end of the pier for about a half hour looking out onto the vastness of the sea in front of me and did a meditation practice. It was so beautiful out there I began to wish someone was there with me to share it, the same way we want to share all the joys in our life, because it somehow makes it seem more real. Having meditated, however, something opened up in me and a thought presented itself, “I am not alone, this is the universe sharing itself with me!” (This epiphany doesn’t really have anything to do with the point of the article, but I thought it was so cool, I wanted to share it.)
The point is, on the walk back, far more steadied in my mind, I remembered all the blogs I have been reading, and podcasts I have been listening to, telling me to be present in the moment, so I really tried; I tried to notice everything around me and then just beneath the surface of the water, and that’s when I saw it. The Jellyfish. I was so proud of finally noticing something that was not so easily apparent feeling like I had finally joined the ranks of my observant friends, and then I spent the next 10 minutes or so getting lost in watching that jelly fish; how it moved, where it decided to go, how the other fish swam around it. It brought me a kind of peaceful joy. Then it hit me; This is the answer to, “isn’t life meant to be more beautiful than this?”
YES, there is more, and life is more beautiful than this; all we have to do is notice. All of the beauty of experience and existence is available to us in the moment, if we are able to quiet our mind, be fully present, notice, and take it in. That is the power of attention. By developing attention, which can be done through mindfulness and meditation practice, a much deeper, multifaceted, cacophony of experience is available to us. Our awareness opens up allowing in a bouquet of sensory experiences. We experience and feel so much more. It brings fullness and joy to each moment.
Our attention is a superpower. The most powerful human tool is our minds, and our mind is the basis of everything we experience and our entire interaction with the world. As a society we have bought into the importance of physical exercise for our health, but almost inexplicably we have not given that same consideration to our mind. Yet our mind is a muscle we can also strengthen. Attention is the practice of focusing our minds, and focusing on the present moment, is a power that opens the gifts of every instant in our lives to us.
The way to further “exercise the muscle” of our mind, to grow our ability to pay attention, is through mindfulness and meditation practices. We all know what it is like to have an untrained mind, sometimes referred to as the monkey mind, where the quality of our life gets controlled by our uncontrolled thoughts of worry, stress, fear, regret, loss, or other negative and unnecessary ruminations. We tend to spend very little time truly content and focused in the present moment, but the present moment is what holds the gifts of life, experience, and knowledge for us.
To put this all together, one answer to the question “Isn’t life meant to be more beautiful than this?” is being fully present in the now, to take in and see, sense, and feel each experience. Presence requires attention. Attention is a superpower. We can grow this superpower through meditation and mindfulness practices. That is what the jellyfish taught me about power.