Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Practice of Paying Attention

We may not think of the practice of mindfulness as being part of our creative practice, but I would argue that it should be.

I'm also interested in the intersections of mindfulness as a spiritual practice, even though mindfulness hasn't been stressed in my Lutheran/Christian tradition. 

In short, the practice of mindfulness can enrich us on so many levels--so why is it so difficult?  Why do so many of us avoid this practice?

One obvious reason:  if we are mindful, we are not mindful just of joy and beauty.  Mindfulness means letting ourselves feel grief and loss.  Many of us try to numb/avoid these feelings.

In her new book Small Victories:  Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, Anne Lamott reminds us that only by grieving, by letting ourselves feel that emotion deeply, do we move beyond grief.  Her essay "Ladders" in the book is an amazing exploration of the process of grieving.  She talks about the strange phenomena of full grieving often having moments of connectedness and joy.  She says, ". . . finally grief ends up giving you the two best gifts:  softness and illumination" (p. 35).

But it's not only grieving that can give us these gifts.  Jane Hirshfield reminds us that a creative practice can give us softness and illumination too.  In this interview, she reflects on her twin practices of Zen meditation and writing poetry:  "Both writing and any spiritual practice are technologies to exceed your own capacity for presence. Both are learned by entering them over and over, and both are without any arrivable-at destination. You don’t write a poem and say, “Good, I’ve done that now.” It’s more like breathing: you finish one poem and begin another. The same is true of meditation. One breath leads to another. Some breaths are transparent, some are filled with silent weeping. Some tremble on the cusp of disappearance, others become the sound of cars or birds. Closely attended, any moment is boundless and always changing. You emerge from these kinds of undoing awareness and you know it is not you yourself who are all-important. You know something of the notes of your own scale."

I'm thinking of mindfulness because of my recent holiday experiences.  On the plane ride to Hawaii, my reading light didn't work and the in-flight entertainment was also not working, so I spent much of the flight looking out the window.  I was amazed at the beauty of the country underneath me.  At points, I wanted to run through the plane reminding people to look outside.

Of course, most people were sleeping or looking at their electronic devices.  They probably wouldn't have appreciated my enthusiasm.  How much do we miss because we forget to look?

At the resort, I also noticed how many people sat and pecked at their screens.  Part of me understands.  Part of my route to mindfulness, after all, involves writing, which involves a computer.  But part of me wanted to say, "Here we are, at a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific, and what are we doing?"

No doubt about it:  mindfulness is tough, whether it's being mindful of our losses or of the surrounding beauty.  But many of our best teachers make it clear that the rewards of mindfulness are great.

1 comment:

Stacy said...

The strange irony of this post is that I would have missed this important reminder if I weren't starring at my electronic device right now!