There are two basic ways to go through your day (and life). First, you can treat life like the experience of déjà vu, or of having been there before. If you’ve “been there, done that,” then life is just a series of boring events and there is nothing new to be discovered in each moment. It’s just more of the “same old, same old.”
The second way to go through your day is to see new possibilities inherent in each moment — or what I call vu jà dé, or “never been there before.”
Instead of sapping the fun out of your day, the vu jà dé approach says that you can spontaneously greet each moment as actors do in improvisational theater: by finding ways to fluidly support each other as you go, even when you don't know quite what might happen. This is, essentially, what mindfulness is.
I experienced a wonderful example of improvisation recently when I was at Jimmy Mak’s club in Portland listening to jazz legend Les McCann, a vocalist and pianist whose song “Compared to What” is now a classic. Though I’ve heard the song many times, it was played in a whole new way, with each musician making the song come alive with fresh energy and uniqueness. Helping with the spontaneity were two women who came onstage to dance and lovingly place a fedora on McCann’s head!
Truly, we can fight and resist the moment — or we can participate in it.
Here are some tips for bringing vu jà dé into your day:
1) Look for one new thing in an interaction with someone you know. Notice something pleasant and comment on it.
2) Notice if you create an internal “script” of how you expect an interaction with another person to go. Let go of the script and allow yourself to enter into a moment-by-moment improv with that person.
3) Change an old routine that you always use. This could mean taking a new route to work, trying a very different food choice than your usual one, or learning something new in an unexplored area of interest (such as sports, travel, or music) and surprising someone you know with it.
Donald Altman, MA, LPC, is the author of One-Minute Mindfulness, The Mindfulness Code, and Meal by Meal. He is a practicing psychotherapist, former Buddhist monk, Emmy Award–winning writer, and board member of The Center for Mindful Eating.