Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Benefits from and Problems with Mindfulness



I'll never forget my first meditation class, taught by Jack Kornfield in a rented space in San Anselmo, California, long ago during the last millenium. Even then, Jack was a top dog teacher. Damn, he was good! I loved the class, the practice, the dharma talks. I was inspired and awakened, just as I hoped I would be.

Until after the last class, that is, a beautiful session focused on metta, a.k.a. loving kindness. I remember wondering, on the drive home from that amazing, heart opening class, why it's so hard for people to stay mindful, be present. I couldn't figure out why we humans have such a hard time embracing the concept of NOW.

The very next day my sister died. You can not plan for a sequence of events like that. The timing was precise. Because I'd been so diligent in my practice, there was no escape from the grief. I felt so betrayed that day, though enlightened, too. For the first time, I understood the allure of denial. It serves a purpose, it does.

Being present with grief feels exactly like having the wind knocked out of you. Or being punched in the stomach. Maybe both at the same time. It was tough! Once I got back on my feet, though, I immediately incorporated metta into my daily practice. I've said that prayer almost every day of my life since then.

That was a long time ago. Honestly the only reason I'm thinking about it this morning is because I'm grateful for my many many years of mindfulness practice. Why? Because the pavements are completely covered with a thick layer of ice. Every step of my walk with Jake this morning was a Vipassana walking meditation. I was able to stay focused, because I've practiced for decades. Jake slipped and slid, and became extremely annoyed. He didn't fall down because he has four legs. I didn't fall down, either, because I was mindful. Thanks, Jack! Thank God, too.

Another cheap thrill. Oh yeah!


Spoons in the window at Peregrine Espresso on Seventh St. SE between Eastern Market and Pennsylvania Ave. They have the BEST coffee I've ever tasted. Really. As good as in Rome. Better than Paris. Cheap thrills in the form of caffeine! Check it out.

33 comments:

lacochran said...

I think you've hit on it. It's hard to stay open and present all the time even though we can learn so much in the process. Sometimes, we aren't quite up to the learning.

I dreamed this morning that I called my mother and my (late) father answered the phone. In the dream I knew he was dead but, so, what's that got to do with anything, right?

Me: Dad??
Dad: [my name], I am worried about you in this weather today.

Good enough for me. I'm working from home.

Glad you and Jake made it home safely.

lacochran said...

Oh, and I love the photo of the spoons in the window!

Okay, I'm done now.

Reya Mellicker said...

When the ancestors step in, it's always a good idea to listen. Glad you're home safe and sound.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

I so look forward to your morning posts You tie together the deepest emotion with the most menial task. Being mindful. I would like to know more about this art form or spiritual form.
But, your term "cheap thrills" reminds me of two things. My husband always tells me I amuse myself so easily; that I can find humor in the oddest places. Sometimes I just chuckle to myself.
The other is what the character Gus says & lives in the Larry McMurtry novel, Lonesome Dove. He was speaking to a young woman who wants more than she's likely to get and tells her: "The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk--and feisty gentlemen."
Those are the "cheap thrills" that make life fun, interesting, and sometimes bearable.
Thanks for yet another great post. You always make me think.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

Oh yea... the spoon photo is terrific!

Morgan said...

I love your example of the icy pavement keeping you in the moment. I head out into the moment now as I cross my icy drive now to feed my goats. Wish me luck!

Reya Mellicker said...

Lizzy - YES exactly. Find humor easily. Oh yeah.

Morgan your apple heads are fantastic!! Wow! Stay mindful in the ice, OK?

rothko said...

Careful out there. The snow is just beginning to turn to slush up here. Ick.

Joanne said...

Just reading your post gave me pause, had me look up from the keyboard outside at the snow falling, and just watch and be in the moment, thankful for so much else that fits into this moment - being home on a snowy day, my family around me, the sound of the furnace humming, the cat curled up. Oh, the list grows the more I give myself over to it. Thank you.

The Family Julz said...

I delight in the knowledge that I am forgetting how to worry about the future, thanks to the beautiful concept of staying in the here and the now. Thank you for reminding me to do so even more.

willow said...

Lovely thoughts. Thanks for the reminder to be mindful. And now I have the incredible urge to make a great cup of coffee.

Auntie, aka cagny said...

Hope you are enjoying the snow.
I had to go to work. :(

Morgan said...

Thank you for adding me to your watch list!

tam said...

laughing. Its becoming uncanny. Just wrote about a Jack Kornfield meditation that may have saved my life, as I was posting answer to yr question 2.I erased the mention though, coz post was getting too long. Go figure.

tam said...

but i am so very sorry you lost your sister. I cherish mine so much. Your questions are stretching me a little.

Just...Lauren said...

Your blog is a daily read for me now. I really enjoy the insight.
Like today...
Having and open mind is painful sometimes, like cold wind hitting a deep gash. But then you can feel and see more than ever before with it.
Though I don't practice any sort of meditation... your words make me want to be more... aware, I suppose.
By the way, love the spoons. The creative little quirk of the day.
:)

E said...

What I wrestle with is that even when I am trying to walk mindfully, sometimes I fall. And then I have to fall mindfully.
E
rosegardenyoga.com

Sia said...

I love this post, thank you.

My own sister passed during the month of February some years ago, and she has been on my mind quite a bit this week, so finding your post was a grace note.

We don't teach the important things in this culture like how to grieve or how to fight fair with one another or how to bless and release...

I've sent the link to this post over to the Spiral Steps group:

http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/spiral-steps/

This is the sort of thing we talk about a lot.

My own dog, Madam, says "hi" to Jake.

Love the photos.

Sia

P.S. Found your blog via Branches Up, Roots Down.

Lori ann said...

Oh Reya, I am so sorry you lost your sister, the title of your post is so true, I dont know that the teachings of someone as wonderful as JK would be helpful with that kind of grief.There have been times when i really was glad to leave my mind and the moment.
stay safe.
xx

Mrsupole said...

Mindful Presence, Embrace the Now, these are new concepts that I will add to my notebook. I keep notebooks with things I want or need to remember because I seem to forget so much, but am thinking I should start a notebook totally devoted to these concepts. I am glad this helps you to work out things in your life and will try to use it with things going on right now in mine. It is very much needed at this moment. Cannot even think right now (was told something while posting this and am crying so cannot see). So God Bless you and know you are so wonderful with what you post. Keep safe while walking on the ice.

hostagirl said...

Reya, I finally have a chance to leave you a comment. Your photos of the area during the big event are wonderful. Even here in our little town of 900 in Montana there was a lot of excitement in the air for several days surrounding that awesome event. Thanks for showing us sites in Washington DC we wouldn't have seen for ourselves.

Rose said...

Great post. Thanks for the reminder.

Another Original by Tamara said...

Love coffee and love windchimes. Now there's a way to experience them both! Who would have thought? Your posts are always a propos and I do enjoy them so. Merci beaucoup

Gary said...

wow.

I thought of you this morning as I looked out my window and saw everything covered in snow and ice, including my car. Instead of 'oh no' this will delay me terribly I thought 'Yippee, snow'. Amazing how easy it can be to alter your perspective sometimes. I ended up having a great day, staying dry (mostly) and enjoying the snow.

e said...

Reya,

Beautiful posting. I am sorry about your sister as well. What you said about being in Now and the allure of denial struck a chord. After my mother passed away, I felt like a giant raw nerve. I could see and feel so much in every moment. The world looked different and I looked at it differently as well. I know that people seek escape from this and other things because they find it hard to always feel so much. Ultimately, however, that is what enables us to live, and enjoy walks with our dog in the snow and be thankful that we could focus and not fall. The pics are great, too.

tam said...

wheew. finally done the last installment of your interview! your questions really pushed me - thanks. I could have answered them in one of course, but they seemed to provoke much wordiness!
thank you.

Ronda Laveen said...

The flat ware photo gives a whole new meaning to the term "spooning."

Barry said...

Walking on ice tends to focus the mind extremely well.

I really enjoyed your post today.

hele said...

just what my heart needed to read.

i was just thinking this morning how hard it is to practise compassion when my heart feels numb.

thank you*

Amy said...

I've written blogs about mindfulness and being present and aware, but none as eloquent as yours.

The past few years have been an exercise in reminding myself to stay on the path of mindfulness. It certainly isn't the easiest path at times but after having walked other paths previously in my life, I'd have to say that walking with awareness in the present is the way to go.

Beautiful blog. Thank you.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Amy and Hele. Though I practice being mindful, I never quite make it through the day without going AWOL at some point.

For me the trick is remembering to come back. Some days I have to do that thousands of times. Other days I just give up and walk around like a zombie. When it's icy, though, I have to pay attention.

Shaista said...

The word 'mindfulness' is itself a bell, and once you have heard its sound the echoes never quite leave you. I put up a post yesterday about Thich Nhat Hanh - I am part of the first telephone sangha in England. It is very cool, we never see each other and are yet completely mindful of each other while practising on the phone :)

Poutalicious said...

Thank you, Reya, I've been falling lately; I fell on my way across a busy street in NYC last month; I fell at a restaurant Friday night. I am definitely lacking mindfulness.