Of Two Minds (written 2015)
Sun on my face
Firefly spangles behind closed lids
Is this moment wasted?
Or fully lived?
It was winter when I wrote the gatha above in a notebook I carried on a woodsy walk. The sun was brilliant. I had no particular place to go. And I let myself sink into the sweet delight of the moment. Cold air, hot sun. Closed eyes, dancing light. But I knew that all around me, within kilometers of where I stood, people were bustling through busy days. They had meetings to get to, children to tend, meals to make and deadlines pending. Clocks on their phones, on their wrists, in their heads. And I was happily doing nothing. Twinges. Two conflicting programs can cause havoc with your computer. Two competing programs can do the same with living. If you believe they are competing that is.
Sometimes I do. When I'm caught in a moment of doing nothing and finding peace, sometimes an old and disapproving overseer shuffles out of some dark closet in my mind, dusts herself off and shakes a finger at me. It's that accusatory finger that causes me to wonder “Is this moment wasted?”
But it's crowded in this mind, the way it is in all minds, and there are a lot of nooks and crannies. Some of them are well maintained these days. Bright and sunny and open. They have windows and fresh air and I like spending time there. These are the places where I post notes to myself about mindfulness and presence. Where the words of beloved teachers are etched on the walls. Where there are no clocks or schedules and the soft sounds of my breath fill my ears like the ocean. Here I find myself asking “Is this moment fully lived?”
The answer lies somewhere on the middle ground, of course. The Middle Way, as the Buddha taught. No extremes of busy-ness and making life complicated and painful. No extremes of indulgence, avoiding what needs to be done. The “just this” of the moment may include sun on my face and fireflies behind closed eyes, or it may include listening with care at a meeting, speaking my opinion with the intention for clarity and understanding, not confrontation or winning. It may mean eating my breakfast slowly in the dark of a winter kitchen, watching the peach and gold light of sunrise from the window, or it might mean helping a child with homework or packing a lunch for school. It might mean choosing to defrost a frozen pizza on a busy day, or preparing fresh garden vegetables on another, knowing that food is essential to life. It might mean putting in extra hours to meet a commitment, or it might mean an honest discussion changing a deadline that is pending.
And of course, it will mean clocks. If not the ones on phones or wrists or desks or ovens, then the ticking of our hearts and the swing of the sun across the sky, because time, measured in change, does pass.
So mindfulness does not mean doing nothing. It does not necessarily mean slowing down all the time. But it does mean paying attention to what is motivating us, why we're rushing or pausing, what like and dislike buttons we are responding to. Having the intention to live a life that does not contribute to unnecessary pain, my own or that of others. Not accepting every memo in life that seems to come with an “urgent” stamp on its face, and checking this out for ourselves.
So now and then, for me, it means pausing in the winter woods and asking myself what brought me here, remembering my intentions and letting them show me what matters right now.