Sunday, August 19, 2012

thoughts on mindfulness

A peek inside the trunk of a fallen redwood tree at Muir taken in 2010

Outside an aspen shimmers and shakes, the only movement in the deep evergreen forest. Tall grasses cover the slope that will carry skiers down to the village in winter. I relish the silence because, at five-thirty a.m., there was none. A persistent little warbler known as an ovenbird launched into song at first light. As much as I love birdsong, this particular voice was a tad strident. In this present quiet, I can slip into intentional mindfulness.

No accident that I can name my current state: I am currently reading Ellen J. Stanger’s book, Mindfulness. She discusses the benefits of mindfulness and its “equally powerful but destructive” counterpart, mindlessness. The following excerpt addresses, for example, the danger of routine. She cites the tape from  an Air Florida plane that crashed after take-off in Washington, D.C. and killed 74 passengers. The pilot and co-pilot, both in excellent physical and mental condition, “went through the pre-takeoff routine and checked 'off' when the anti-icer was mentioned. This time, however, the flight was different from their experience. This time they were not flying in the usual warm southern weather. It was icy outside. As [the pilot] went through the control checks, one by one as he always did, [he] appeared to be thinking when he was not.”

She continues: “Mindlessness sets in when we rely too rigidly on categories and distinctions created in the past (masculine/feminine, old/young, success/failure). Once distinctions are created, they take on a life of their own. Consider: (1) First there was the earth. (2) Then there was land, sea, sky. (3) Then there were countries. (4) Then there was Germany. (5) Then there [was] East Germany vs. West Germany. The categories we make gather momentum and are very hard to overthrow. We build our own and our shared realities and then we become victims to them - blind to the fact that they are constructs, ideas.

My oft-mentioned friend, Mary, posted this yesterday: “There have been times when the angle was quite steep yet I felt solid, and others when only a slight elevation would have made  me slip.”

This thought returned to me with consciousness this morning. I have so often fallen on level ground but remained upright on slippery slopes. Probably because I am more focused on the latter and mindless when maneuvering familiar territory. 

In this moment, I am aware: of my body and its need to be stretched; of my mind and its need to be exercised. Cognizant of the forest unburdened by precepts and time. Grateful for other voices that ripple across the ether. 

May a smattering of this awareness follow me into the noise throughout the day.

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