Fear of missing out is the reason you stayed late at the party, the reason you skipped studying to go the football game. Our desperation to cram as many fun experiences into our lives often prevents us from actually enjoying a moment in its entirety.
We bar hop, we party hop, we go to festivals where endless music keeps us constantly moving from stage to stage, our music playlists jump from artist to artist and genre to genre. The theme of transition and perpetual activity pervades everything we do. How rarely do we stay? How rarely do we sit and listen to an album in its entirety, sit in a bar and watch people as they come and go? We’ve come to treat life as a buffet, sampling the crusts of 1,000 dishes without ever knowing what they actually taste like.
Sylvain Tesson, the French author of “Consolations of the Forest,” describes his fear of time, how he was always trying to snatch it back, to shove more things into his bag. He lived in a hut in Siberia for a year to escape this fear. He would spend half an hour just watching the snow fall outside his window. The size and grandeur of the wilderness is perhaps the best way to come to terms with the passing of time. Wilderness, where there are so few things to focus on and where each thing demands your full attention, where being bored is a way to “fertilize your mind.”
Not all of us have the opportunity to develop our acceptance of time by escaping to the Siberian wilderness, but we can teach ourselves to slow down and enjoy things more deeply in everyday life.
Try going on a hike, plant yourself at the summit of a mountain and sit quietly watching the clouds and listening to the wind ruffle through through the trees. Pick up a rock and stare at it. Study all of its curvatures, dents and colors. Stay at a bar until closing time. Watch the people trickle out into the streets and the bartenders sweep the floor and turn out the lights.
Not only do we swap between activities, we also frequently do multiple activities at the same time. How often do you eat in front of the television or your computer? How often do you hike whilst listening to music? We have certain songs that we associate with nature or working out. A slow melodic guitar seems the perfect pairing for a walk though the woods or a weekend camping trip, and a powerful bass drop gets your blood pumping at the gym. These distractions prevent our understanding of what it truly means to enjoy a meal or walk through a forest.
Eat without the distraction of the TV in front of you, focus on the color and smell of your food. Take care in each bite and notice the texture and interaction of the flavors. Hear your heart pounding inside your chest, the slap of your feet against the pavement while listening to your own breathing as you run. Listen to the birds, the crackle of the fire and the howling wind. Embrace silence and the deep pleasure that comes with it. As Sylvain Tesson says, “a truly great moment can be spent doing nothing.”