Mindful Moments

We’ve been in Maine now for three weeks and it’s been great! One of my pleasures here is that each morning--early- I take one of our dogs for a walk through the 100 year old city park that’s a short distance from where we’re staying. For the past several days, I’ve introduced a simple mindfulness practice into this daily habit.  As I start up the hill from our house, I say the mantra “May I be more mindful today.” I repeat it a few times at the beginning and then- if I remember- I repeat it later as I’m heading back toward the cup of coffee waiting for me.

 

 

This simple practice has been a good reminder of a few key points. First, it’s not too difficult to be mindful when you are alone with your dog on a beautiful  morning in Maine. There might be fog to feel or pinkish light to notice or the Art Deco filagree on the park entrance to appreciate. The cool temperature invites stopping to experience the sensations on the skin and my dog’s frequent  pauses to sniff allow me to pause and breathe as well. Yes, mindfulness, especially when the intention has been explicit and then joined with an already established routine, can itself become automatic.

 

Until.....

People are involved.

One morning, a friendly woman approached me as I was walking up the street and saying my mantra. She introduced herself and said she was a new resident in the neighborhood and thought I might be a neighbor that she hadn’t yet met. We chatted briefly and then each went on our way. And despite having the intention to be mindful-- to be present to my experience as it was happening - I promptly forgot her name. An indication that something else was holding my attention when she said her name. As I thought about this, I realized that my mind was so busy manufacturing questions (Why is she coming towards me? Who does she believe me to be? Is she going to ask me something? etc.) that I didn’t even hear her name. And then was too embarrassed later to ask her to repeat it. So I was otherwise occupied. Not a terrible thing in itself. It happens often. But I was reminded of how easily I can cloud the moment with my own concerns and that being fully present means holding both the internal and external experience- the whole of it.

 

This morning’s walk brought another kind of mindful moment to my attention. My dog and I were in the park- she sniffing, me noticing the handsome old trees around us-- when a couple jogging with their dog appeared in view. As soon as my dog saw their dog, my dog began barking-- and continued to bark. As the couple moved past us, I heard the man mumble under his breath. I thought he made a negative remark about my “yapping” dog. (Theirs was not barking.) For the next few minutes, I found myself spinning stories and conjuring negative thoughts (“They feel so superior because their dog doesn’t bark!” “ Way to ruin my quiet time.”etc.) Of course, they had done nothing wrong. And it didn’t take me too long to recognize how I was the one ruining my quiet time. When I did, I could then let go and return to being in the park rather than in my head.

 

Where was the mindfulness in this encounter? It came after the event: in the noticing of my internal reaction, in becoming aware of the thoughts my mind was generating and in recognizing how those thoughts were affecting my experience in the moment.

 

One of our favorite Zen authors, Ezra Bayda, when in the midst of a difficult circumstance, asks himself the question: How is this a part of the path? In a similar way, we can take small “lapses”, such as those I’ve described, as opportunities to reinforce our intention and/or to learn more about our reactive patterns. One of the benefits of this practice is that when we become aware of and accept the inevitable moments of mindlessness, we see them as possibilities to become more awake instead of believing them to be ‘mistakes’ for which we must judge ourselves negatively.

 

Intention helps.

Lapses happen.

Mindfulness accumulates.

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