Jonathan Hall

Stop. Turn. Take a Look Around.

Jonathan Hall
Stop. Turn. Take a Look Around.

Sometimes becoming fully present is the antidote to overcoming unstable situations. With the right perspective, the ominous scenario you find yourself in can be weighed against the totality of what life has to offer.

When particular joys become illuminated, you can reduce the damage of difficult times. Not only does the recognition of good things help to mitigate the effects of bad things, but intense appreciation of the good things can manifest, thus rendering the negative experience ineffective.

There's a scene in Tolstoy's War and Peace that perfectly illustrates this. Nikolai Rostov, the once decorated military stud has just gambled away a large sum of his father's dwindling fortune to a hard-edged bastard in a series of drunk-induced bets. It was only moments earlier in the story, that he was Moscow's most captivating lieutenant with the St. George Cross pinned to his chest. The full magnitude of the crisis causes him to have severe suicidal thoughts. And then...he hears something. Something very familiar. Something he's heard hundreds of times before -- his sister Natasha singing. Only this time, he really hears her.

"And suddenly the whole world became concentrated for him on the expectation of the next note, the phrase, and everything in the world became divided into three beats. All this misfortune, and money, and Dolokohv and spite, and honor -- it's all nonsense...and here is -- the real thing..." [1]

He is completely subdued by her voice and realizes just how beautiful the world is, even if it's only for a time of momentary bliss.

In an occasion of emotional crisis, Nikolai enters into a reality bigger than himself.

Turbulent times -- Tolstoy tell us, can catapult us into a heightened sense of how dynamic our life really is. A radically widened perspective can be the result of losing something so valuable.

And in this moment of turbulent times, you have the power to become captivated. You are fully alive. You aren't hooked up to machines, clinging to life in a hospital room, doped up on morphine trying to make sense of this foreign feeling of survival. You are living in the most prosperous time in the history of the world. You have a chance to make something of yourself. You have the chance to reconstruct deteriorating relationships. You have the chance to fall in love with life again.

"I wish that life should not be cheap, but sacred. I wish the days to be as centuries, loaded, fragrant." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Life is fleeting.

We are all like mayflies who flap our wings for a day and think it's an eternity. There will come a day in the not-so-distant future when we will do something for the last time. Think back for a moment. There was a singular point in the past when you did certain routine things for the last time: played with a childhood friend, played catch with your dad, baked cookies with your mother, went fishing with your grandpa, met a friend at a coffee shop, dropped your child off at school.

At the time, none of these experiences seemed like they would ever end. They, like every other event in your life, were just a conduit to the next thing. It isn't until later on, after these moments have expired, we truly realize how precious those days were. Just how precious those people were. Just how precious it was to be alive.


And what's worse is, we destroy robust and authentic occasions to obsess over silly nonsense. And the horror of it all, is that we succeed in this with chilling precision. All the moments that truly matter pile up into a remote corner of our lives while frivolous events monopolize the majority of our attention.

"If one were truly aware of the value of human life, to waste it blithely on distractions and the pursuit of vulgar ambitions would be the height of confusion." - Dilgo Khyentse

It isn't that only deep meaningful acts should dominate your attention. Sometimes you just need to respond to an email, scroll through Pinterest, find a paint color for the bathroom or talk about a co-worker's antics with a friend. These things happen. However, it's a matter of emphasis. When you are in a hurry to navigate through evening story time with your kids or obsess over contentious episodes with your boss while having lunch with your spouse, or when the pressures of work define your irritability at home, you are in dangerous territory.


The only guarantee you have in life lies in the present moment. The future will never arrive; as soon as it does, it becomes the present. And what you calculate as future events are no more guaranteed than the next breath you take.

This moment...and this one....and this one, hold everything that your life is based on. Fully saturating yourself in all that life -- with all its messiness -- has to offer, is the one sure way to truly enjoy this cosmic experience we call living.

[1] Give War and Peace a Chance, Andrew Kaufman