I sat upright in my beach chair for perhaps thirty minutes, facing the open sea, while spending time simply quieting my mind and chasing away any spurious thoughts that might come rushing into it. Each time a thought would come to the front of my mind, I would acknowledge that it had entered, quickly dismiss it, and return to keeping my mind as empty as possible. I had read that this is the method for doing mindful meditation, and that some people find it so boring and unessential that they quickly brush it off, never to return. For me, the exercise was easy. It was not boring to practice being completely relaxed and sensing a deep calmness.
Maybe my natural intuition has already brought me close to this state of mindfulness in the past, so that my actual experience while meditating did not seem much different to me than when I am out looking at things in nature. I learned years ago to go observe things in nature as a means of gaining a deeper satisfaction for living. Growing up in a family of artists taught me to carefully see patterns, colors, shapes, and light, and learn how to take pleasure in the study. Moving from that learned behavior to one of being intentionally quiet and passive in mind and body seems almost effortless to me. The difference I noticed today when sitting near the log on the beach was that I could observe the flow of thoughts through my mind, and they were good thoughts, but I am cultivating the ability to easily brush them aside and turn them off, as if I had my hand on a water faucet.
My mind became almost completely empty, and when thoughts did come to me, they were thoughts about how the wind on the water was building strength and making me cool because of me sitting so motionless. I learned after thirty minutes or so of this practice today, pushing away the thoughts and listening only to my own breathing as a sort of point of focus or concentration, that I could probably meditate on a regular basis with no difficulty. Today was a first test.
The idea of engaging in some sort of disciplined mindfulness or meditation came to me just this past week. I felt like I was losing the ability to control or induce any sense of inner peace or calm. I knew that my mind was restless and agitated. I didn’t seem to be able to slow it down or stop it from letting it take off on its own and run free without me. I would lay in bed at night and watch my mind go lickety-split, like a train that cannot stop. The other day I pulled out a copy of a book I’d bought years ago and never read, The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. His words resonated with me from the first page onward. I must have bought this book several years ago when feeling the same recklessness going on inside of me.
He describes several scenarios for how to develop mindfulness. They are every day tasks, such as washing the dishes, or making a cup of tea. For several of the activities I normally do each day, I made a concentrated effort to keep in the very front of my mind exactly the what, how, why, and where, of each thing I was doing. When I made lunch I stepped into the kitchen, knew I was in the kitchen, opened the door to a bottom cupboard, knowingly unstacked and rearranged a stack of bowls–some clear glass and others colored plastic–to get to the bowl in which I would slowly place each of the ingredients of my salad. I carefully handled and examined each of the vegetables, turning them over in my hand and looking closely at the texture of them, watching my hands chopping them in a rhythmic motion with a knife on a wooden chopping block. After carefully studying each step in the process of making the salad, and being aware in my mind that I was conscientiously slowing down the process to bring my mind into sharp focus, I ate the salad with roughly the same precise observation, chewing and experiencing the taste and texture of each bite, then feeling the food go down as I swallowed.
This may have been one of the most interesting and revealing meals I have ever eaten. Instead of mechanically going through the process of making and eating the salad while my mind ran off in a million scattered directions, I simply watched and thought deeply about each step in the finest detail I could muster up, and missed almost nothing. If I could learn to do this, live in the moment, when making and eating a salad, I am wondering how much else in life I might be able to enjoy more fully than I have in the past. Oh yes, washing the dishes was also a wondrous experience, studying the soap bubbles, the rainbows of color coming through the wet glass, the sound of water rushing down the drain. I’ve been rushing through life so quickly, for, well, all of my life, without being able to understand how much of the beauty and wonder in it I have completely missed.
I don’t know that I could live in the moment all day, every day, as I attempted to do today. Maybe, if I were determined to do so, but life would really slow down and become even more quiet than it is for me now. I don’t think my goal in learning how to be mindful is to slow down, but to live deeper in each day. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests reserving one day a week to slow life down and live that whole day in observing mindfulness. With that much rigor and attention devoted to the practice, I would develop enough mastery of the discipline that my mind would never run wildly away from me on its own. I would have control, peace, and calm. I might then even have some fuel for writing.