A man on a sunny bench in the park decides to be more present. He gathers his resolve, closes his eyes and begins to focus on his breathing. In comes the breath; out goes the breath; in comes the breath; he wonders if those pigeons are someone’s flock or if they’re wild; if they’re wild, he wonders if they survive on handouts only. He races to retrieve his mind as it gathers speed chasing after the pigeons and brings it back to his bench and once again focuses on his breathing. In, out. In, out. If they’re someone’s flock, he wonders if whoever owns them counts them, or if he just feeds whoever shows up. And if the flock ever recruits other birds and the guy actually ends up with more birds rather than less. Again, the man on the bench nabs his nimble monkey mind and brings it back.

There is a younger person teaching yoga, leading a mindfulness exercise during a sequence of poses. She gently exhorts her students to focus on perfect form in this moment, to bring their minds to the form. She knows their knees are like melting butter by now, late in the class; hers are like steel, and she lets herself feel a tiny tingle of pride for that. How long has it taken her to get to this point? She remembers how she was when she started. Her knees felt like rubber for – oops! She gathers her monkey mind by the nape of the neck and brings it back to the present. She gently reminds her class to do the same.

Later that afternoon, by coincidence the man from the bench and the young yogi are standing next to each other in line at the coffee shop and happen to catch each other’s eye. This should be where integration occurs, where age, gender, race, life stage – where it all has a chance to be bridged in one expression of acknowledgment of mutual existence. Each of them is in there, in their practiced present moment; the stage is set for integration.

It doesn’t happen. As they sweep their glance across each other, for as present as they practice at being, our two heroes look through each other like panes of glass, seeing only inside their minds. The moment and the opportunity pass. The chance for that granule of integration passes out of phase. The line moves forward and the man from the bench orders black coffee. No, just black. Medium. He pays and begins to move away – but moves back to the cashier, almost stepping on the toe of the yogi, behind him. Let me get hers too, he says. The yogi, seeming to enter the shared common present with a jolt, demurs, but the man from the bench insists and she orders. The man pays. The opportunity for integration presents itself again, and this time they take it, glimpsing the common present moment that is life.

Mindfulness is a focus exercise whose purpose is to make us more capable of enjoying the present; it is also, by necessity, practiced within one’s mind. But it cannot stay there. What an extraordinary idea that we might keep such a skill to ourselves, what a supreme act of greed. No. Mindfulness is, like so many other things in this communal world, much more gratifying when it is shared and is at its most powerful when we bring it forth. It is the safety net that protects us as we interact with the social environment that surrounds us. Mindfulness training – seeing things as they really are – lets us see the beauty and wonder of living, to see the people and nature in our world. It is the only way to truly smell the coffee of life.

May 13, 2018
parkBench

A Present For Us All

A man on a sunny bench in the park decides to be more present. He gathers his resolve, closes his eyes and begins to focus on his breathing. In comes the breath; out goes the breath; in comes the breath; he wonders if those pigeons are someone’s flock or if they’re wild; if they’re wild, he wonders if they survive on handouts only. He races to retrieve his mind as it gathers speed chasing after the pigeons and brings it back to his bench and once again focuses on his breathing. In, out. In, out. If they’re someone’s flock, he wonders if whoever owns them counts them, or if he just feeds whoever shows up. And if the flock ever recruits other birds and the […]
May 6, 2018
Promise

Integrity and Promises

Those who have integrity, who do what they say they will do, said the sage, These are the people who can tell the future. What does it mean to keep one’s word? The question is incomplete, because keeping one’s word is a symptom, even a lesser one, of a broader quality of integrity. The old man in the small fishing village who walks the same path every morning opens his shop and prepares for the business of the day. He does this, day after day, year after year, until a time comes and he is very old. On one day a storm strikes the village. The rain falls and the wind blows, threatening flood. The old man walks the path. He opens his shop. As […]
April 29, 2018

Karen and Harvey

Few in their right mind would look to a disaster on the scale of hurricane Harvey as an opportunity for joy. Few, perhaps, but not none. Because the hurricane that was Harvey gave us exactly that. Harvey created an opportunity for us to give, to satisfy others’ urgent need for clothing, food and shelter. That need rekindled in us our instinct to charity, and we have risen to the occasion with the same expansiveness of character we see so much of during that oddest of times, the holiday season, when people hold the door open for others instead of jamming themselves through first, smile instead of scowl, and laugh instead of brood. In this way, and with an irony that boggles the mind, Harvey opened […]