Seizing the Moment: Selflessness

Our continuation in the series on Seizing the Moment, brings us to the final aspect, selflessness. To truly engage the moment, one must be able to administer selflessness so they can further themselves towards their endevours and goals.

Learning selflessness

Become totally absorbed in the moment by performing acts of such utter selflessness that you forget yourself. Consider this scene at the hospital in Baidoa, Somalia, in 1992: A CBS News crew could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons fire in the marketplace, only a hundred yards away. Within minutes, bodies were thrown onto the floor of the makeshift emergency room run by an American group, the International Medical Corps. Twenty died before anything could be done. Among the forty remaining, there was a small four-yearold girl. She was clearly “bleeding out”. There was no blood bank, no blood substitute. One doctor, a pediatrician named Mickey Richer, from Denver, Colorado, calmly took a intravenous needle, asked a technician to insert it into her vein, and then drew a pint of her own blood. She transfused her universal donor “0” positive blood into the small girl and saved her life.

Heroism is an act of utter selflessness, and it is only through heroic acts that I believe we become truly great. While you may never have the opportunity of jumping into a swift river to pull out a small child or running into a blazing building to drag out a trapped family, you do on a daily basis have the opportunity of practicing the same form of selflessness as front-page heroes. Those small acts of kindness go a very long way.

Many of us believe that Karma is some kind of good or bad will that indiscriminately afflicts us. In Buddhism, however, good Karma is built task by task. In a lecture I attended, Geshe Michael Roach of the Asian Classics Institute in New York emphasized that we are not made or broken by life’s big events, but by how well we perform the mundane small tasks. How you say hello, your politeness in traffic, your helpfulness at work – each task is building either good or bad Karma. Perform tasks with a high mood, good spirits – in other words, with positive affect – and you will create your own good luck.

Undertake them with resentment, anger, or negative affect, and you’ll slowly sow the seeds of your own destruction. One of my father’s patients, who had built a large fortune from nothing, explained his success by saying: “Don’t spoil your success. The surest way to spoil your success is by littering your day with small acts of meanness.”

Create a vision and then enter into it

Entering the moment unlocks your visual imaging capabilities in the posterior part of your brain. And remember, the strongest, most creative thought processes in the human brain are called visual spatial, basically thinking in three-dimensional pictures instead of words. According to Thomas West, when Einstein developed the theory of relativity, he did so by imagining it. Great poets such as William Butler Yeats imagined what they would write about, creating a picture, then putting it into words. Churchill was a visual thinker, as are many leaders of the new digital age. The reason that visual thinking is so important to positive thinking is that it allows you to run movies in your head. The more you run these movies, the less you’ll focus on petty concerns that drag you out of the moment. I tell my son to enter the moment in a conversation by forming a mental image and then describing it, as a sports announcer describes a play. You’ll find that you become much more alive in conversation than if you just grope for words. Describing a picture in your head concentrates your brain in the moment. Practice creating those visions during your afternoon nap or as you fall asleep at night. It’s a great way to enter the present, forget the anxieties of the day, and put yourself to sleep.

Fight to stay in the present!

There are many forces dragging us out of the present. By monitoring exactly where you are, fight getting pulled into the past or the future. Below are two mottos to live by:

Don’t let the future ruin the present. The greatest setback to living in the moment is having permanent anxiety about the future. For many of us, a hypothetical future ruins the present. I see this in the playground in New York. Amazing little children running, skipping, jumping, and playing in the playground while their fathers are standing by, cell phone in hand, oblivious to the great joy they could share with their children. Deeply anxious about the future, the fathers are busy making Saturday-morning phone calls to the office; rather than living in the moment and recovering from a long week of hard work, they’re tense.

Don’t get dragged into the past. Don’t let the past ruin the present, either. Every small hurt and slight during a day, or a bigger one in the recent past, can find us replaying the event over and over. The setback could be missing a flight, getting a larger-than-expected credit card bill, denting a fender, spilling a drink, or losing a cell phone. If you’ve suffered an insult or setback, you want to get over it and quickly get back into the present. Try quickly to focus on what went wrong, why it went wrong, what you can do to prevent it in the future, and then instantly recover your good mood.

So seize each important moment of every day and live it to the fullest and remember that selflessness can go a long way towards that end.

Dr Leo Kady