Spiritual Practices II: Mindfulness

Tired of multitasking?  Got too many pans on the burner?  Do you get brain shivers thinking of everything at once?  Are you so busy you often walk into the garage and forget why you’re there?  Remember long ago, those green stamps that they gave away with groceries?  Are you ready to exchange your children or the neighbor’s children for their weight in those stamps?  Maybe it’s time we talked.  About mindfulness.

            Where do you live most of the time:  In the past with events frozen in time?  Or hurtling toward the future filled with promise or dread or anticipation of what hasn’t yet happened?  Both places can be sources of unhappiness for most of us.

            Some people are so wrapped up in the past that they live life as if steering a car while looking through the rear view mirror.   And what do they see?  A frozen tableau, or a moving picture reel that cannot be changed but only viewed again and again.  The Sunday jock whose remembered glory resides in that senior year touchdown that won the game.  The woman who even now longs for her first lover, long absent, who remains a standard against which she judges all new relationships.  The 50-year old man who carries his critical father around in his head, who continues to question his judgment and undermine his confidence.

            Then there are others who spend their time looking ahead:  for when they grow up, for when they go to college, for when they get married, for when they get divorced, for when they get married again, for when the job will get better or a new one will come along.  All of their energies and hopes are invested in what, ironically, may never be.

            Both sets of people–and most of us are mired both in the past and the future–run about in the present moment, juggling the many balls life gives us, our minds incessantly chattering a running commentary.  We carom from now to past to future like billiard balls, some of us hitting others on the table in the process.

A spiritual practice that can revolutionize your life awaits you:  the practice of mindfulness.

            One practices mindfulness by slowing down:  Breathing more deeply and through the diaphragm, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  Then drop your anchor into the present moment.  If you were in a boat on the water, try to drop that anchor without making a splash or a sound.  What do you hear?  Do you feel the wind?  Listen to the birds calling.  Can you hear your ears ringing?  How about what you smell?  Do you taste anything?  Can you feel your tongue in your mouth?  Do you sense the tension in your jaw?  Take your shoes and socks off and wiggle your toes to feel the texture of wherever you are.  Breathe deeply again, and be here now.  This is the only time there is, this now.  Past and present are intellectual fictions we tell ourselves.  There is only now.

            The next time you eat a meal, whether alone or with someone else, be present in the now-ness of the meal.  Savor each bite and chew ever so slowly.  Sense the sturdiness of the table, the firmness of your chair.  If the table is wooden, smell its fragrance or touch its texture or marvel visually at its grain.  There is all this to discover in the present moment of eating a meal at your table.  Re-discover an apple by touching it, smelling it, feeling its tang as you bite into it, hearing its crunch.  Savor the juices and the flesh of this fruit for as many slow moments as you can.  Be present with the apple.  For this moment in time, it is your universe.  What does this all mean?  Simply that you have the capacity to be:  vertically, if you will, in the now rather than horizontally in the past or future.  That state of being, as you continue to practice it, will somehow deepen.  Eventually you will realize that when you are totally present and mindful, your being exists in a timeless state, if only for a little while.  This is the beginning of mindfulness practice.

            And for at least some of us, the practice of being reminds us of our connection with Being itself, which also exists outside of time.