Montaigne’s words (it’s “Chacun court ailleurs et à l’advenir, d’autant que nul n’est arrivé à soy” in the original French) are a striking reminder of how unsettled and restless we can be.
All too often we do things halfheartedly. The other half of our heart is leaning into the future, anticipating what we’ll be doing next. So we’ll be loading the dishwasher, wishing we were watching TV. But when we’re watching TV, we wish we were on Facebook. Even when having sex, people spend ten percent of their time thinking about something else. We’re so often leaning forward — rushing on to the next activity.
When Montaigne says that “no one has reached his own self,” he means that we’re not able to just be with ourselves. We’re not able to appreciate the simplicity of simply doing, simply experiencing. We think there’s something lacking in the things that we do, or even that there’s something lacking in us. We lack confidence that we can be complete, and that we can be at peace, without adding something. And so we lean forward all the time, rushing on into the next moment, seeking the happiness that seems missing from the present one.
We can never be happy when our attention is divided in this way. Only by wholeheartedly experiencing something can we really derive joy from it.
Even things we think of as unpleasant chores can be fulfilling if we allow ourselves to be completely present for the experience. Loading the dishwasher can be done in a spirit of care and reverence, for example.
Happiness comes not from the experiences we’re having, but from the way we relate to those experiences. Any experience has the possibility of being completely fulfilling, if we choose to pay full attention to it, and to appreciate it.
Mindfulness can often have the quality of “coming home.” We arrive back at ourselves, and accept what we find, whether it’s pleasant or not. We allow ourselves to settle in to whatever is arising. We don’t criticize it or judge it. We don’t try to make it better. We just try to be with it. We appreciate each moment of experience as the tiny miracle it is.
Settling in to our experience in this way, we lose our sense of learning forward, of rushing elsewhere and into the future. We reach our own selves, and feel whole and at peace.