Sunday, September 4, 2011

In the Fast Lane

An 83-year-old lady was recently stopped by a traffic cop. "Do you realize you're speeding?" She replied, "Yes, officer, but I had to get there before I forgot where the hell I was going." She got off lightly. (Apparently, if the Internet is to be believed, a true story.)

Most of us, even retirees, seem to be in a hurry. When I was invited to join the Friends of Silence, I immeditately did so. The price was right (free), and the obligations for participating in this online movement non-existent. Even though I have written a lot about silence in the work of Thomas Merton and led retreats on the topic, I find myself preoccupied with busy tasks and need to take time alone to slow down and be silent.

I've written about the Slow Movement, which began in Italy and has spread to areas other than eating, before, and about my love for adagios in music and slowly unfolding movies and novels, and for savoring the present the way our cat, Lizzie, does: with total attention to even the most routine things.

For example, today, as I opened the door for her to go onto the porch, she studied the doorstop with wonderment, as if she had never seen it before. This was, of course, instinctive caution overruling whatever memory she might have had of seeing me, over the past twelve years, do this identical thing. She was concerned that she might not have a way back into the house; the doorstop was her guarantee of an opening.

But what struck me was the way she approaches many of the totally familiar and routine things of her life, as if they are new and amazing. It's like what mystics aim for in their very different searches but what all of us can do if we stop, slow down, and really look at the ordinary things of our lives.

How easy it is to be carried off in memories or daydreams while driving, cooking, or showering instead of consciously noticing the water, the smell of the soap, the feel of the experience, as if for the first time. Mindfulness of this type takes a bit of concentration, but it is rewarding.

I recently glanced at several books at Barnes and Noble, all of them advocating some aspect of mindfulness for stressed people. One by Jan Bays, MD says we can turn the humdrum tasks of our lives into mindful moments that give us a pleasing awareness of an awakened life. You don't have to be a Buddhist to follow this practice, which can easily be applied to Christian or other forms of prayer (Centering prayer, e.g.). To recognize that the kingdom of God is in and around us now requires mindfulness. It has to do with being present to ourselves without criticism, judgment, or analysis--and of our bodies and the world around us so that we feel the presence of God in the present moment.

It usually begins with simply slowly down.

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

Sometimes it seems as though you are writing directly to me! Like this post. I really feel the need to slow down, but it is not easy for me to do.