THE BLOG

When Did Life Become a Competitive Race?

02/18/2015 02:43 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

Whew! My most recent hike was taxing. I slowed my pace to better manage my breathing, choosing to inhale and exhale more slowly and deliberately. Shifting the rhythm and pace helped me in at least two ways: 1) I was able to maintain my progress on the uphill part of the trail without stopping and, 2) I focused differently, taking in sights that I'm usually oblivious to, like the little brown mole peeping out one end of his dirt tunnel. Being more or less the same color as the surrounding ground provided the critter with good camouflage cover, but spotting him would have been a challenge at my usual clip. You might be thinking, "Who cares about a mouse-like rodent digging a hole?" The takeaway point is that in our hurried lives, we often miss interesting experiences.

Mindfulness is a concept that comes from Buddhist writings and refers to the process of noticing everything in real time. It includes suspending judgments and avoiding telling stories about what you see that drag you into your past through memories or into your future through expectations. It means staying in the here and now and using your senses -- all five if possible -- to really observe. I've known about mindfulness for many years, but came to my current experience of mole-noticing the hard way.

Slowing down to breathe while on my walk was not exactly a choice, but a consequence of having one lobe short of a full set of lungs. In some ways, I'm lucky. Three years ago, out of the blue with no symptoms, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Surgery removed the tumor that shocked me out of lifelong complacency about my healt h-- which had always been excellent. The length of our lives is unknowable, so I'm living fully in the time that I have, hoping to top the actuarial charts!

Taking a moment to smell the proverbial roses is sometimes a necessity for me, but likely is optional for most of you. Without an incentive and in our everyday hurriedness, stopping to notice, smell, feel an ordinary object may seem self-indulgent and wasteful. But I promise you that you'll see the outer, and perhaps the inner, world differently. Being with an object means attending to it fully as opposed to simply glancing at it while you're thinking about something else so that it fails to register in your brain as an event worthy of remembering. Observing something that you might otherwise overlook may not change your life, but then again, maybe it will.

Mindfulness is perfectly suited for the over-60 lifestyle. This may be the first stage in life when it's possible to focus attention on our own lives with a fuller perspective, informed by a lifetime of accumulated wisdom. For these reasons, we may actually make better connections between new experiences and what we already know. Creativity has the potential for being enhanced in your later years because of these factors.

My time-out to breathe more fully while hiking cost me an extra 10 minutes to complete a favorite 4.5-mile trek. Was it worth the trade-off? I think so. When did life become a competitive race instead of a journey?