On the Essence of Mindfulness

On the Essence of Mindfulness

The digital zombie babies are here

In the small, New Hampshire town where I grew up and where I’m spending the last, beautiful days of summer, I order a black bean burger at a new cafe and take a seat by the front door.

I watch a young child, perhaps four years old, sleepwalk like a little zombie to his table without once looking up from his handheld device. His mother steers him to the table with one hand on his shoulder. Once seated, he continues to pore over his device.

I peruse the news feed on my iphone and read that 50 employees of a Wisconsin-based company have said yes to having radio-frequency chips surgically implanted in their hands.

Later, back at the bed and breakfast I’m staying at, the innkeeper, Rita, says, “Hey Alice, you need Square.” She shows me how she inserts a small square attachment into her mobile phone, enabling it to accept credit card payments so she can book guests at the inn anytime, anywhere—like when she’s visiting her daughter in NY.

Mental health professionals are noting we need an Off button from the constant connectivity.

Mindfulness—a clear, awake awareness of the present moment—and also meditation are the Off buttons.

The evanescence of life in Our Town

For the past week, I’ve been savoring simple pleasures: the sounds of birdsong, crickets, and rustling leaves, the feel of the warm sun and cool breeze on my skin, the play of sunlight and shadow on the lawn—the beauty of a summer day.

As I stare at the maple trees and park benches lining the bank of the river, I think of Emily, the heroine of Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, who returns (from death) to her small New Hampshire town to witness one day of her life.

With the awareness of impermanence that death gives her, Emily sees everything she has taken for granted as precious—the white picket fence, her mother’s tenderness, the goodness of her loved ones….

Even in an age when digital addiction was not yet an issue—the play was first produced in 1938—she has the sad realization: “We didn’t have time to look at one another.”

When Emily says her final farewell, she is fully awake to the beauty and wonder of the world, to “clocks ticking, Mama’s sunflowers, food and coffee, hot baths….”

This clear, awake awareness is the essence of mindfulness, and savoring the beauty, wonder, and deliciousness of life is a portal into a more present, awake state of being.

Cultivating more awareness

Possibly my favorite awareness practice, from an ancient text of Yoga, is to “Rest your mind where it finds contentment.”

When we inhale and exhale and pause… to experience with our senses, the ocean air, a latte, a hot bath, the feeling of the earth under our feet, the breath itself, we are more fully alive. In the sensory experience of the present moment, we are not ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. Our awareness is more free. We have more clarity, more insights, and a deeper sense of well-being.

When we rest our mind where it finds contentment, we are conditioning our awareness, training it to be expansive: peaceful and spacious. Such an awareness is more likely to open into and rest in meditative states.

So pause when you feel content, and savor the wonder, deliciousness, and beauty of the present moment.

(Written in August of 2017.)