There’s a lot in the news lately about mindfulness. Not that it’s a new idea — not at all. In fact, it’s quite old, one of the seven factors of enlightenment in Buddhism. Being mindful as part of daily life would, the Buddha taught, keep people in touch with their emotions, assist in a calm awareness of self, and contribute to wisdom.
Today psychology employs it. Psychology Today online says that “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
Years ago, when I was still an undergraduate, Ram Dass advocated “Be here now,” and his phrase has stuck with me all of the years since. It’s not always something I manage, but it is something that I aspire to. Sometimes I manage it.
Why? It’s really quite simple, at least for me. So often I have managed to get caught up in planning for the future, in focusing on all that’s left to do, or to achieve, or to perform — with the consequence of losing any sense of the now, of the present moment, and of appreciation for what is going on around me or with me. That’s such a loss, it seems to me — and I regret that I spent far too much time being un-mindful when I was younger. Though I enjoyed much, I probably missed out on even more.
So often I was aware of what I didn’t have, what I hadn’t managed, what I wanted but didn’t have. In the emotional roller-coaster of my 20s, I too frequently lost that savoring of present events and moments. Not completely, of course. But too much.
Our culture undermines mindfulness, too, in its insistence on achievement. Success, in too many ways, is seen as climbing higher in status, on the job/career ladder, in buying a bigger house, etc. We rush through our lives, DayPlanners in hand (or now, our smartphones). Calendars rule our schedules.
For me, summers were always the respite between academic years, when I allowed myself to have as much personal time as possible. Once I returned for fall term, though, I jumped right back into that madness. My calendar was often filled in months ahead of time. At times I felt that I needed to pencil in time for me. If I could find time. I always laughed at Holly Hunter’s character in “Broadcast News,” a woman so driven and career-minded that she scheduled in a few minutes of crying in her otherwise busy schedule. Sometimes I felt that I’d put my own personal life on hold, while I went to school, or worked for tenure, or helped care for family members.
Slowly, though, I managed to claw back time for me. I learned to be in the moment more often, gaining so much from allowing myself to be glad for the moments caring for my mother or brother or father. Maybe it was part of aging, or maybe it was a greater appreciation for what I had that, say, my brother Phil didn’t have the time for.
Whatever the reasons, I have found myself thinking of this a great deal over the last few days. I’d planned on going to the family farm this weekend, but chose to stay in Lake Charles, slowly working and organizing. Rather than worry about what I didn’t do, I stayed home and gave myself the time to enjoy being in the moment with my own house, my own place.
As I worked at tasks, I was there, not thinking of future programs, or projects. I spent my energy on my task, paying attention to what I was doing, and totally aware of my own body as it demanded that I occasionally get up and stretch, or take a sip of water. If a pet came up to me for attention, I didn’t ignore it — but stopped, took it in my lap, and petted it. Time really wasn’t in the foreground; I wasn’t aware of its passing much. Just of the beads, the containers, and my own self.
When I got out of the house for errands today, I was sharply aware of the crisp cool air, of the breeze, of the freshness of our fall weather. Though it will pass soon, I enjoy it while it’s here.
And in these hours of simply being in the moment, I’ve found such joy, a joy of re-discovering my home, my relationship to it, and of being in it. There’s a calmness from within, a contentment I’ve not felt for a while. For once, I am fully at home, full-time.
And I like it.
I know it’ll change. I’m never successful at total mindfulness.
But I strive, I strive.