What Calvin and Hobbes taught me about mindfulness.

I grew up on Calvin and Hobbes, as I’m sure many of you did.

Funny, mischievous, poignant, antagonistic, wise…the comic embodied all of these (and more) at various times. And, on occasion, all at once.

But mindfulness? How can the boy and his tiger teach us anything about that?

There are two key concepts I promote when it comes to mindfulness and meditation: impermanence and living in the present moment.

Both are critical to understanding our compulsive minds, and developing a consistent practice to overcome the problems they create.

On to the first lesson…

Everything is temporary.

But, our minds try to make everything permanent — from the car alarm (or barking dog) that intrudes on our peace and quiet, to the pain of a breakup or our failure to accomplish a certain goal.

We cause ourselves to suffer when we try to cling to what’s temporary and make it permanent. “If only” usually precedes this suffering: “If only it could be like it used to be.” Or, “If only things had turned out differently.”

The transient nature of all phenomena is a universal truth. Most people object to it, though. They think “What kind of life can I live if I view everything as temporary? If nothing lasts forever, how can I love others and allow myself to be loved?”

Thinking this way, however, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of impermanence. The following story from “Thoughts Without a Thinker” by Mark Epstein puts it into the correct perspective:

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaah, the Thai meditation master.
“For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’
When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”

Understanding impermanence helps us appreciate the time we spend with the people and things we care about. It also makes it imperative that we learn to be truly present with them.

Which brings us to the second lesson…

The present moment is all we ever have. It is the only time you can ever actually do anything. It is where life unfolds.

Ironically, our minds work hard to keep us anywhere but the present moment.

Our minds pull us into the past to “long for days gone by,” or to experience regret over mistakes we have made. They project us into the future to worry about things that may — or (most likely) may not — happen. Or, they create a fictional reality when everything will be perfect and we can finally be happy!

But, if you are postponing your happiness to some future moment when everything will go your way, you will never be happy.

Why?

Because your mind is never satisfied with the present moment — it will always need something else. Something needs to be fixed. Something needs to be acquired. Or, something needs to be achieved.

Your happiness is always just over the horizon. And, it will always be just over the horizon if you continue to believe your mind.

The good news is, life only comes at you one moment at a time. And, that moment is always now. You just have to realize it.

There you have it — timeless wisdom from a boy and his tiger.

All we have to do is heed the lessons, and our lives can improve dramatically as a result.

note — if you enjoyed this article, read the one we just wrote about another animated character: The Zen of BoJack Horseman.

If you’re interested in applying some of these concepts to your life, visit “Your inner narrative” to find out about awareness-based behavior therapy.

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