Dr. BJ Miller is a palliative care physician at Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. He lost three of his limbs in an electrocution accident as a college student. When he was a guest on The Tim Ferriss Show he shared some amazing inspirational nuggets about being in the moment and what he has learned from those who are at the end of their journey on earth. He talked about how fresh baked cookies or looking at art brings us back to the moment and helps us remember what makes us happy.
“Yeah, the smell of fresh bread. Or for most of us, the smell of the chocolate chip cookie does magical things. First of all, food is primal. Our sense of smell. It is one of our oldest senses. It is primal. You can walk by someone who may be wearing a cologne or perfume of someone you knew 30 years ago. It’s been maybe a few years but there’s a perfume that I would smell that my babysitter wore when I lived in St. Louis when I was in preschool and it would throw me back there instantaneously. The sense of smell is potent. And food is primal and potent. It’s nourishment. It’s nutrition. It’s how we live, in some way. So there’s all this symbolic stuff happening too but there’s also just the basic joy of smelling a cookie. It smells freaking great. And it’s like the snowball. In that moment, I am rewarded for being alive and in the moment. Smelling a cookie is not on behalf of some future state. It’s great in the moment, by itself, on behalf of nothing. And this is another thing back to art. Art for its own sake. Art is – part of its poignancy and music and dance is its purposelessness and just delighting in a wacky fact of perhaps a meaningless universe and how remarkable that is. That’s kind of what I’m shooting for. That’s a way for all of us to live until we’re really dead. Until we’re actually dead – is to prize those little moments.”
If we can focus in on those little moments every day, what would that do for our soul? For Dr. Miller’s patients, those moments are all that is left. We can embrace them now, without the curtain coming down momentarily. But what is holding us back?
Neuroscientists say that our brains take in 11 million bits of information every second, and only 40 of those bits are consciously processed. So almost everything in our daily life is happening unconsciously. How can we raise those moments up into our conscious minds?
Listening to something our child is saying as we rush through our day. Savouring a bite of our favourite meal or treat. Singing along to that song on the radio. Removing our ear plugs during our walk so that instead of multitasking we can hear the birds or the breeze or the ideas in our own brain.
BJ Miller said, “If we love such moments ferociously, then maybe we can learn to live well — not in spite of death, but because of it.”
Those moments will keep us moving forward.
I just turned the final page on an epic novel I had been reading called Shantaram. Author Gregory David Roberts said, “For this is what we do. Put one foot forward and then the other. Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more. Think. Act. Feel. Add our little consequence to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world. Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night. Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day.”
We live moment by moment. Our life is built on moments. All we truly have are moments. May we live them well.