Take your index and middle fingers and reach for your carotid artery. If you feel nothing, please stop reading and call 911. If you feel jackhammering and have not recently exercised, please also stop reading and call 911. Ideally, you will feel the steady thrum of your pulse, that reassuring reminder of your vivacity. At this moment, you are alive and nothing else matters.
The hours, days, weeks, and years that comprise our life tend to draw our attention away from basic principles. We worry over mortgage payments, medical bills, our children’s education, our parents’ health. We fret over climate change, species extinction, political upheaval, war, famine, drought. We agonize over the stock market, overdevelopment, traffic jams, taxes.
We concern ourselves with celebrity haircuts, sports rivalries, album drops, Netflix queues. We drive ourselves to distraction with gear choices, route alternatives, training plans, how long we can hold a plank position. We torment ourselves about bad hair days, unfortunate outfit selections, blemishes, love handles, premature balding. This is all contemporaneous with our brains being occupied with career responsibilities, obligations to community, menial quotidian tasks, silly philosophizing, simple daydreaming.
Lost in this mental maelstrom is the miracle of our existence. Not the presence of humankind generally, but the shocking reality of our individual presence in corporeal and conscious form. It is a state of being that we take for granted, that we ignore in favor of the litany of concerns enumerated above and the infinite more that subsume our appreciation for ourselves.
It is once we strip everything else away that two truths reveal themselves. The first is that we have become hoarders not of worthless physical possessions, but extraneous psychological suitcases. Life in contemplation only of one’s cardiovascular system is a life wasted, but so too is one which deviates too far from core concepts.
Work is important to prevent the traumas of extreme poverty. But it is not so critical that one should skip a breezy afternoon on the porch gabbing with the woman that brought you into this world. Your child’s performance on a test or in that soccer match are necessary barometers, but they are meaningless compared to the hug that you give him afterward, compared to the way that her smile lights up the room.
The other revelation is that we are immensely strong, despite our fragility. To shoulder the myriad burdens of life is no small accomplishment. We must give ourselves more credit, certainly more kudos than criticisms. So too must we maintain our strength. The heart will not beat forever, but its power can be prolonged with responsible living, with steady exercise, restful sleep, less than a case of beers on a weekend.
Depending on your socioreligious perspective, the mind/soul may be immortal, but at least during its time hovering over terra firma, it can be protected from contamination by a steady diet of rejuvenating conversations, contemplative study, deep breathing, and an absence of stress over that which cannot be controlled.
You need a reset. Take yourself for a nice, long walk and let everything else fall away. Then, when you get home, embrace whoever or whatever may be around to share your life, call your folks and/or kids, text your friends just to let them know you love them. And, when you are led astray by the distractions of your day, stop to take your pulse and remember that you are both a necessary and sufficient part of this world.