There is a wonderful function in all body-minds, in us, which is that once we learn something, we don’t need to learn it again. An example that I often give is the one about opening a door. There was a time when we did not know how to open a door, but as time went by we learned that we need to lift the arm, put the hand on the handle, close the hand, push down the handle, push the door, release the handle, open the hand…And once we learned how to do it, we didn’t need to learn it again.
This is wonderful for opening doors, but not for living a meaningful life. And a large part of our lives happens in what we can call automatic pilot, and this is not so good. Autopilot is a mode of experience that does not need almost any attention at all. In this mode, we can live our everyday life very well… or better said, superficially well, with enough attention to survive, but of course, the question is: is survival enough?
For example the way we relate to people. When we meet another person, we barely exchange some ‘hi’, ‘hello’, ‘how are are you’s – if at all. It is OK, it is often enough, but we know that it is a very superficial way to connect with another human being. In many cases that is all we can or even need to do. But imagine if we related to all human beings that way. It would be quite sad and empty.
Actually, this is the way that most people live their lives. Most people’s lives are lived in this state of barely contacting the object of their experience; by object of our experience I mean anything that appears in front of us, a person, a thing, a situation, an event. Because we are so often lost in our thoughts, worries, plans, memories, complains, fears, anxieties, all our energy goes into one or more of these places and no energy is left to give to what is actually appearing in the moment.
Because we are so lost in our inner – problematic – world, when we need to contact the so-called external world, we do it on autopilot. And it works… but it doesn’t. It works superficially, we survive, we manage our everyday duties, but our lives become uninteresting, boring; they lack the most important quality we can experience, which is love. I don’t mean the love between two people, romantic love, but the love of being touched, of being amazed, surprised, awed, interested in what appears right in front of our eyes. This love is what is lacking when we live our lives on this automatic pilot. Instead, life becomes grey… yes, grey is a very good word. But not because life is grey, not at all! It becomes grey because we look at it through the filter of this autopilot.
I remember a trip I took to the mountains with my son, and while walking on a beautiful path I saw him looking down lost in thoughts and I told him: “Look!”, pointing to some amazing view. He looked up, uninterested, and answered with a bit of annoyance “Yes, I saw it”, and immediately lower his head and went back to his thoughts. I would have liked to say to him: “No, you did not see it. Maybe you saw it a few seconds ago, but you did not see it now. Look! Be amazed!”.This is very common with adolescents, but sadly, it is also very common with adults in their everyday lives.
We need to learn to be more alert, to be more interested in what appears in front of our eyes. It does not have to be an amazing landscape. It can just be the house, the person, the car, the street, the shop, whatever it is that appears in our moment, that is what deserves our attention and love. It seems that we have already seen it all… but it is not like that. There is no: “I saw it”. It does not matter that you passed by this or that place a million times before. When you pass by it again today or tomorrow, it is not going to be the same at all. You will be different, the place will be different, the whole universe will be different!
From the point of view of the autopilot, nothing deserves more than the minimum of our attention. But from the point of view of love, everything deserves the best that we can give.
Again, there are times when the autopilot is all that we can give, like when we are very busy and need to finish a particular task. That is OK and even necessary. But if we spend most of our lives in that automatic mode, then life looses its color, and we loose our love.