This morning brought the promise of rain, which ultimately manifested as only a few misty sprinkles between hours of cool sunshine. Stellar and Topaz walked with me through the woods, I baked some cinnamon buns and enjoyed the sugary treat outside with coffee on the patio as phoebes flitted and titmice tittered, and I finished reading a pretty good novel. Then I attended to my lesson plan and taught the first of eight classes to a second pair of students, embarking on the last practice session before I get certified to teach mindfulness. After that, we walked again, to the canyon in evening sun, and then I made dinner and watched some shows. It was a mundane, simple Saturday, the kind I love, and I’m grateful for every living moment of this day spent in contentment.
I only checked the news headlines a couple of times, and each time I felt discontent, frustrated, angry, and sad. People can be disappointing. Human nature has an evil streak, try as we might to deny it. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three poisons of mind that cause the most suffering in the world. The Buddha recognized them 2500 years ago: They were with us then, and they remain today; they may have evolved along with our other, better qualities as we became the human species, and there may have been an adaptive advantage then, but there isn’t now. I truly don’t see any hope for eradicating them in general, but I can sure do my best to diminish them in my own mind. By choosing to turn my attention away from the so-called ‘news’ that is full of them, and toward the living, breathing planet under my feet, I’m able to water the seeds of gratitude, compassion, kindness and joy. This brings a pure, deep contentment to each day.
I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to find contentment, after a lifetime of chasing illusory ideals of happiness. I’m grateful for every step that led me here (though I think I could have done without several-many of the more painful lessons along the way), for each right step, and for each wrong step that taught me something, offered an insight, invited a course correction. I’m grateful that I survived my poor decisions, and finally understand the power of choosing where I place my attention.
I’m grateful today for our countywide healthcare provider group, Delta Health. Today I visited both the hospital and the West Elk Clinic to get some tests run prior to an intake with a new primary care provider. It was a challenging trip for me. It was only the third time in the past year I’ve driven that far: I know realistically that the chances of a car crash are greater than the chance I’ll get Covid now that I’m vaccinated, but I managed to keep that anxiety at bay for the forty-five minute drive down there. At the hospital, I girded my loins, double-masked my face, and strolled bravely into the lobby.
Things have changed since the last time I was there. A new intake desk with a touchscreen checkin, wiped with disinfectant before and after each use, and a greeter taking temperatures with a wand to the neck. Everyone waiting in the main lobby both for admissions, and for wherever they were going next. I had grabbed a New Yorker from the mail pile in the car, and when I sat down to wait I opened it to a page of LL Bean’s menswear. Oh no! I had grabbed an LL Bean catalog, not The New Yorker! I flipped through the catalog, then opened Kindle on my phone and picked up where I left off months ago in The Compassionate Mind.
It was half an hour before I got into an admission office, and during that time I was dismayed to see several employees walking around half-masked; other people pulling their masks down to speak, and so many gapped masks. But I practiced patience, and felt safer being vaccinated, and reasoned that these people probably get screened daily and act cavalier because they know they’re Covid clean.
In the office, I was mesmerized as usual by the clerk’s fingernails. They were even longer this time. I’m always grateful when I get this lady, because her nail art distracts me. She seemed subdued, distracted, not her usual chirky self. She said, “Things are gonna get much worse.” The pandemic obviously getting to her. I really felt for her, and this helped me keep equanimity. I was stressed being there, but hey, I’m grateful I get to work from home. I felt for all of them. She sent me back to the lobby to wait for Radiology to come collect me. I wished her well. I felt that my being calm, pleasant, and expressing gratitude for her work gave her a lighter moment in her day.
I changed seats a few times in the lobby, as people with droopy masks passed too close for comfort. Myself wore a ‘non-medical grade N95’ (whatever that means) that my cousin gave me, with a cloth mask over it. Time plodded on: I looked up every time someone came through the double doors from the main corridor. I started getting short of breath, and couldn’t bring myself to take a deep, full inhalation. It wasn’t the mask, it was the anxiety. Finally I walked back to the intake desk and said, “I’ve been waiting for Radiology for a long time, and I’m starting to feel anxious…” I was met with such a compassionate response I immediately felt better. One and then another attendant checked in the main office, and the second one explained that there had been some emergencies and they should be with me soon, and would I prefer to wait in the chapel by myself. That sounded good. As she was escorting me back there, the X-ray tech passed us and called out my name.
After waiting an hour, the X-rays took about ten minutes. I found myself holding my breath as the tech stood close and positioned me, thinking, If I can smell his breath (which wasn’t bad, just warm and moist and slightly scented) then he’s too close! I think I would have thought that anyway, even pre-Covid. The whole episode was a trial. I know that makes me sound like a weenie, but we all have different anxiety and risk thresholds. It’s been so long since I’ve been that close to that many people I felt a bit like an alien. Anyway, he escorted me back out to the corridor, and we parted with sincere well-wishes. This is a silver lining of Covid I’m grateful for: People really mean it when they wish you a good day, or to stay safe, or to take care.
Then I got to the clinic, and there was no order for the bloodwork. But the kind young lab tech spoke to the upcoming new doctor and got an order then and there, stuck the needle without sensation, got what she needed, and I was on my way home. I’m grateful for all the kindness that was shown to me during this adventure, and for the kindness I felt in my own heart, instead of the frustration, resentment, and irritation I might have felt had I still been an earlier version of me. I’m grateful that the fruits of daily mindfulness and meditation practice led me more or less serenely through the day, and allowed me to relax quickly after returning home, tossing all my clothes into the wash, and decontaminating in a hot shower. I’m grateful that my little blue car got me there and back safely, that Stellar was happy to see me when I got home, that hot water came out of the tap, that I had clean comfortable clothes to put on, and bread to make a grilled cheese-beans-and-bacon sandwich, and the rest of the day to enjoy this precious interconnected life.
I’m grateful for resilience, his and mine. Stellar slid into another bout of inexplicable diarrhea that started yesterday morning but wasn’t conclusively an issue until after dark, as usual. Why does it always strike them at night?
I’m grateful that I remembered the potty pads I keep for Biko, and remembered my brilliant idea of a sheet path to the door in time to protect the rugs, and had a brand new case of paper towels on hand to line the path for the next run(s). I stayed up late monitoring the situation, then had to get up a few times in the night to let him out and clean up. I’m grateful I had Imodium in the medicine cabinet from the Shitstorm a year ago, grateful I remembered it was there, grateful it seems to have settled things by midday.
I’m grateful for mindfulness practice every day, but especially today. Under the tender tutelage of Mindful Life Program founders Mark and Laura since last summer, I’ve been learning more about meditation, motivation, and meaning than I have in all my years of casual study and dedicated interest. I’ve begun to fully embody qualities like patience and compassion, which may come easily to some people but have taken me years of practice. I keep my attention trained, for the most part, on what matters, and don’t let my mind drag me off into what ifs or if onlys.
In this way, I was able to remain calm as the gravity of this episode sunk in, recognizing that it’s happened before, we got through it before, and he was just fine (as fine as possible with his bad back end) before; that it was likely it would resolve in a couple of days and we’d go back to our normal, peaceful routine. I was able to accept that this is how it is right now. Further, I had confidence that if all wasn’t well later, and his health took a dark turn, I could handle it. Resilience. So I didn’t fret, I got up when I had to, slept lightly, did what I could do to mitigate mess and cleaned up when necessary, all with unruffled patience and a heart full of unconditional love for my dear companion. I tended and rested through the day, and by evening, all does seem well, neither of us much worse for wear. I’m so grateful that I could hold this unfortunate event in perspective, respond appropriately, and still enjoy many aspects of a quiet, calm snowy Sunday.
Today’s mindfulness activity was to “do your best to give love to yourself so that you’ll have more of it to give to others. Pick a healthy attitude or activity that you would like to nourish and engage in it as much as possible today. Try to be mindful of how this impacts your feelings toward yourself and your interactions with others.” I read this minutes after getting up after sleeping in past nine am for the first time in months. Sleep, I thought. I’ll sleep as much as possible today. I didn’t sleep at all again til a few minutes from now, but I sure felt relaxed all day long. I’m grateful for every opportunity I had to connect with someone who matters to me, and for the relaxed comfort in my own skin that the extra sleep allowed me to feel. I’m grateful for the daily guidance from a wise and generous teacher, that reminds me I can choose to be the best version of myself in any moment. I’m grateful for all the pieces of this life in this moment, and for the privilege of sleeping in once in a while.
I’m grateful today for mindfulness practice. The simplest definition of mindfulness that I can share after six months of in-depth study on the subject is: mind training. So that ‘mindfulness practice’ becomes ‘mind training practice.’ It’s still and always practice. You never get there, because of impermanence: ‘there’ is no fixed point, ever. It’s always changing, along with everything else including your means of locomotion to get there, the companions you meet along the way, your own fitness for the journey.
Most of us invest five minutes to an hour or more each day in our physical fitness, whether simply brushing our teeth and running hot water over our faces, or more: a weight training workout or a run, or a swim, or a yoga class three times a week, or or or… and a hot shower afterward. How many of us devote ten minutes a day to mental hygiene? I’ve always spent more time each day on introspection than I ever have on dental hygiene. The difference is, now I’m actually training my mind, instead of simply riding it. (Like a horse, right, cowgirls?) I also floss more often.
A key component of mindfulness practice is breath. Of course, breath is a key component of everything. We’re spending a lot of time practicing awareness of breath this weekend in our class retreat, but more about breath another time. Immersed in a weekend intensive, each exploring our own way of being across the four domains of body, mind, emotions, and spirit, the domain of spirit especially resonates with me today. This domain is comprised of one’s sense of purpose, one’s sense of worth, and one’s sense of connection, or belonging. Today, I’ve been examining these three aspects of my way of being whilst teetering on the brink of a yawning pit of existential angst. It’s fascinating. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice!