Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ordinary Moments

The extraordinary moments of life are what make up our existence as we are doing other things and waiting for "enlightenment". I had a rather routine doctor's appointment the other day, just a quick check, in and out--or so I thought. It was in the mid-afternoon of a typically busy day. Not that I mind busy days. Busy is good for me. Busy works for my personality. I strive on movement and action.

Anyway, on this particular busy day I had a deadline to meet with my accountant, and customers and vendors who insisted on lighting up my phone lines. As I was driving to my appointment I got two calls on my cell phone about issues that needed immediate attention. I started the process over the phone and promised each of them that I wouldn't be long at my appointment and would get right back to them as soon as I was back in my office.

I checked in as usual and was led back to a treatment room in typical fashion. What wasn't typical was that my doctor was also having a busy day and I had to wait a bit before he saw me. He is usually very punctual. As I was sitting alone in this treatment room with no reading material besides Teen Life and Dermatology Today, I started going over in my head all the things personal and professional that were happening in my life. I noticed a very cheap painting on the wall opposite me of a small pond with lilly pads and what appeared to be lotus flowers. Then it hit me. That was my mindfulness bell.

For a little perspective you need to realize that twenty plus years ago I would have been crawling the walls by this point. I would have likely been pacing the floor, impatiently asking nobody in particular: "Where the hell is he?...Don't you realize I need to be___(fill in the blank)...I don't have time for this...etc, etc, etc...." In my self-important, professional, careerist world, I didn't have time for meaningless distractions, and (God forbid) downtime. Thankfully I have grown, if but only a little. My mindfulness bell--in this case a cheap painting in a doctor's office--brought me back to my center, or somewhere in that general vicinity. Anyway, I took the hint, closed my eyes, and took full advantage of this (once meaningless) distraction and God-given downtime. It wasn't necessarily a Satori moment, or earth-shattering by any means; but then again, maybe it was and I missed it.

The mindfulness bell is used in the Zen tradition as a random reminder to re-focus, to bring our minds away from our fanciful thoughts, worries, and mental fantasies and back to the moment of existence. Thich Nhat Hanh recommends that we use everyday items and events as mindfulness bells. Things such as traffic lights. So every time you stop at a traffic light use it as a reminder to shift your thoughts to now, and away from whatever fantasy or worry you may have been engaging. Mindfulness is more than what we practice in our moments of silent meditation. The process, the act of being present, can be brought out of meditation and into all our activities. As Thay says, when you wash dishes, wash dishes.

Of course this takes massive discipline and much intentional practice. In my case, I was focused for a bit and that moment of silence provided much needed balance in the middle of a hectic day. But typically I was back in my head and slaying all kinds of mental dragons before I made it back to my office. But at least I am aware of the process and am able to occasionally catch myself and take advantage of a break in the action. And I know I have truly grown. What was once a neurotic inconvenience is now an opportunity to transform the ordinary into extraordinary. My work, my growth, has just begun.

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