Today’s twenty minute mindfulness practice went something like this. I sit down and take a deep breath, focus on a few of the subsequent breaths, ready to calm my mind. I notice one breath, two brea… “Oh, I’ve got to remember to tell the contractor that he can use the radio downstairs. This construction is taking so long. And how long are we going to be without heat? Thank goodness it’s not as cold as it was last week. But I should be rooting for cold and rain because of the drought. Which reminds me, I’ve got to start conserving more water cause this California drought is so bad. How is the next generation going to …” Wait, I’m supposed to be watching my breath. In… out… in… “Sheesh! What kind of meditation guide am I anyway. “… Wait, breath… in… out… in…out… in… out, “I should be starting to get calmer now cause… But that’s not the goal. Well it usually happens by now, maybe I’m not focusing right. BUT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE WATCHING YOUR BREATH!” Oh yeah, in… out… in… out…
And on it went for about twelve of the twenty minutes. Sound familiar? It should. This is not unusual. Even for someone who’s practiced a fair amount. It’s not even unusual for this to happen for the whole meditation! One of my meditation teachers, who actually used to be a monk, said that he recently got up from his meditation to make a phone call. He got so lost in thought, he completely forgot he was meditating. Feel better?
This is what the mind does. This is what we’ve asked it to do since forever, to figure things out, to worry, to plan, etc. So we can’t fault it for doing just that. That’s a good mind, right? So where was I going wrong? I wasn’t. Even though I was somewhat caught in the drama of my thoughts and kept loosing my way, there was a part of me that remembered all I had to do was keep coming back to the breath and keep watching the drama unfold. And I remembered to do that without criticism or judgement. Even the criticism is to be met without judgement. That is mindfulness.
And sure enough, after about 3/4 of the meditation, I began to settle in. I saw the thoughts for what they were, just thoughts, not realities. I realized that I didn’t have to act on them now or even in the future. And especially not now when all I needed to do was watch myself be. The calm eventually set in deeper, I even heard birds chirping far away. I didn’t feel the need to worry about what kind of meditation model I was being. It didn’t matter right now. All I was curious about was what was happening now. Then the timer rang.
As I continued on with my day, I noticed I was slower and more grounded. I noticed the mental push to urgently get things done, but I didn’t feel the need to necessarily act on those urges. I could see them for what they were, just thoughts, like during the practice today. Then I noticed something else, that my contractor had taken the time to bring my garbage cans in. This was an act of kindness that would probably have gone completely unnoticed and unappreciated had I not been paying attention.
That’s what mindfulness does. Yeah, eventually, it’ll probably make you calmer. But I think, most importantly, it makes you see the way things are, not how your plotting, worrying, freaked out mind imagines they are. But how they really are. Then you’re able to take in and appreciate the thread of gentle kindness that runs through life.