Minding My Mindfulness

I’ve been dabbling in mindfulness lately. In February, 2018, I completed a three week Mindfulness Meditation workshop and was trying hard to stay focused on my breath. I learned that there’s just plain mindfulness and then there’s mindful meditation. The instructor said that it is possible to be mindful without Buddhism but you can’t be a Buddhist without mindfulness.

Since I call myself a secular humanist with Buddhist leanings, I thought I’d better pay more attention. And that’s the crux of it. Paying attention. Being present. I’ve absorbed the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodrom and I love the Dalai Lama. I get that it’s a journey and mine has been one of peaks and valleys.  And no matter how long this journey, I seem to always have to go back to the beginning and relearn the basics

The definition of mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.  The instructor also said mindfulness makes us kinder. The world needs more of that these days.

All this reminded me of Fall, 2017, when I’d attended a Mindfulness in Writing workshop. It sounded intriguing and I was at an impasse. I had gotten away from my writing and thought this might help me refocus.

The workshop was held at a non-profit wellness center outside of West Bend. I checked maps on the internet just to be sure I knew where I was going and then put the address into my GPS. Off I went, looking ahead to a peaceful day of writing and learning.

I was fine until the GPS said I should turn off the highway one exit before the internet map had indicated. There are times I follow what the GPS says and then there are times I don’t. Whatever my decision, I’ve always reached my destination.  So, this day, I decided to let the GPS be my guide. Perhaps I was trying to be more mindful.  I decided to consciously put aside my obsessive tendencies to always be in control and enjoy the ride.

It’s hard to believe that just a few miles north of a large city there are mile after mile of winding roads, rolling hills and green, sumptuous farmland with not a building or person in sight.  It was a mild, fall day and the colors were in full display. I was enjoying the experience.

I became concerned when the country road I’d turned onto, in a leap of faith, became quite narrow with no painted lines down the middle. Spots on this roadway became a hardly paved trail that couldn’t have accommodated a car passing in the other direction. I got more anxious when I saw a sign that said I was on a ‘bridle path.’  Here I was, driving to a mindfulness workshop and feeling less mindful by the minute.

As is my style, I began to fret that I’d never find this place or worse that I’d be late. One of my cardinal rules of life is to never be late. Three minutes before the workshop start time. I glimpsed hope ahead. The clearing revealed a road. A regular road with pavement and painted lines down the middle. The GPS said turn left and there it was. Within 50 feet, I’d arrived. The instructor was waiting at the door and I joked to her that my ride might have been a lesson in being mindful.

The workshop was small with the instructor and five writers. We started with mediation and then several forced writings that have since yielded a poem and two essays.  After lunch we had a purposeful time of personal reflection. Just spending some time on our own and taking in our environment.

The afternoon began with another meditation followed by more deep writing. Several of the exercises involved simply observing and writing about our surroundings. Noticing what we might miss in the busyness of our regular activities.

All in all, it was a good day. What might be the best thing is that we slowed down. And that’s the essence of mindfulness.  Since the writing workshop, I’ve been more aware of the stories that are right there before my eyes; the tiniest observation can provide material for an essay or a poem. My new but small daily meditation practice has helped keep me balanced.

On my way out of the center, I stopped at the front desk and asked for directions to the county road I’d originally intended to take. I followed those directions and was back on the highway in minutes and home in no time. All on paved and marked roads! I wonder if taking charge and breaking the rules is part of being mindful too. Namaste.



Where Poems Come From

Just an innocent remark
at the end of a casual conversation.
Muses about life’s joys and sorrows.
Or insight after a troubling time.
There’s a poem in that, she says.

A friend talks about sitting in her yard
watching the squirrels prepare for winter.
How this made her laugh, then think
about the passage of time and how we all survive.
There’s a poem in that, she says.

A friend shares impressions,
after reading the Book of Joy.
The underlying tale of tolerance.
A friendship based on longevity and laughter.
There’s a poem in that, she says.

A friend just had her cat put down.
Sorrow after fourteen years of delight.
So hard to do the right thing.
A mixture of sadness and resolution.
There’s a poem in that, she says.

Friends leave the restaurant
and face the clear blue sky
without a cloud in sight or hint of breeze.
But cold as cold can be, we still appreciate.
There’s a poem in that, she says.

Monthly Poetry Breakfast meets.
Nine or ten, but we never have a full house.
Share, read, critique, we know
everything we do informs an image.
And that’s where poems come from.





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