Mindfulness is not a perfect practice which is what makes it perfect for us.
When I became a student of Buddhism in my twenties the thing that I found so comforting, such a relief, was that it didn’t seem to take itself so seriously. These were practices, not something you’d better get right or be judged lacking or worse. Practices. You were never expected to perfect any of these things, meditation, mindfulness, the study of the various texts and teachings, you simply had to show up and do the best you could, over and over, without judgment.
What a revelation. I was raised in a world of mortal sins, venial sins, confession, fear of doing anything at all wrong or there were consequences. You mean I just have to show up on the mat and do the best I can, fidgeting, aching back, mind wandering all over the place and making up my grocery list instead of having a mind as empty as a blank slate which is what I imagined everyone else in the room was achieving. I was used to kind of bumbling around and never getting things just right, but I beat myself up pretty good over it and if I didn’t there were others only too happy to do it for me in the world I grew up in. I continued to work at meditation as I do unto today four decades later, and sometimes I am still making up my grocery list, or something itches, or a pug barks or a parrot says unseemly things, but still I sit until my time is up.
So, too, mindfulness. It is a very human practice. There is no way to do it wrong except not to do it at all, and that’s okay too. No one is going to charge up to you and shout, “What are you doing? I thought you were going to be present, to slow down, to wake up to this very moment…” No, no one is going to say a word, because being mindful is something you do for yourself, no one else. You will not be judged. If you seek this path you will have days when it goes well and days when it doesn’t and days when you completely forget, but then there are the times, oh those precious golden moments when it all comes together and there is an exquisite realization that you are one with all things, that in that moment there is a piercing sense of connectedness that takes your breath away, where you know everything you need to know, where you are not afraid, anxious, worried, jealous, where nothing exists in the world except you in perfect peace, suspended in time. It is grace realized. And if you are very lucky it might last 10 seconds. If you can stretch it to 30 seconds you are a fully actualized spiritual being. Inotherwords, it doesn’t last, but to experience one of those moments once in a blue moon, that’s the whole reason you keep doing it. The veil has been lifted and once you have experienced that fleeting, unfettered, amazing moment of clarity you can never go back to sleepwalking through life. You may find this state of grace again or you might not, but we practice because it is the closest we will get to it, and that, in and of itself, most of the time is enough. It exists. That knowledge carries us through.
This was very helpful for me today. I was having a day where I was working fast and furious and excited and, well, I got a little bi polary. It happens. Mindfulness in the middle of a bi polar flareup just isn’t likely going to happen. I came just to the edge of feeling guilty about it and then I let go. I release all of the old tapes about how I am not good enough, and why does this happen to me, and I am taking my meds and I am doing everything I am supposed to do and I am working, not frittering time away, and I am a nice person, and surely I deserve that blazing moment of clarity, or, maybe just the ability to sit still and not go spinning straight up out of my chair and into the clouds.
I got up and walked outside with the dogs. I took a million photographs and not one was worth a poop if you’ll pardon me for putting it that way. I haven’t cleaned up my kitchen and there is laundry to do and I just let things go because it was one of those days where doing the best I could do was the best I could do. I might not have been able to move through the day as mindfully as I would have liked to, but I did break open to a kind compassion for myself which was the most important thing I could do today.
Tonight I got the birds put to bed, the dogs all their meds and treats, walked with them outside in the crisp cold November air, and then came back in and made a cup of tea. One of my favorites. It is Caramel Apple, a caffeine free rooibos tea from Zhena’s Gypsy Tea. I held the mug in my hands, warming them, and the heat helped me come back into my body and I sat here staring at the computer screen. I sipped my tea and I thought about my day and I thought, “This is what I need to write about, how mindfulness isn’t perfect and that’s why it’s perfect for me.”
This practice isn’t going anywhere, it will be there tomorrow, and I had just a few moments while I had my tea when I relaxed and touched down on something that felt good. That’s really all it’s about.
Each night when I sit here to write the post for the day what I want most of all to share, I think, is that this mindfulness business is a very flexible, forgiving practice. You can do it anywhere, any time, you can miss a day, you can be doing it and if your mind wanders, oh well, you’ll pick it up again now or later. This is why I have stayed with it all these years. It anchors me. I know it is always there. Even if it is sitting over in a corner quietly waiting for me to come round again. I feel less lonely.
Mindfulness is not a perfect practice. I am not perfect, I am human. This is why I do it, and why I will continue on…