Wednesday, January 27, 2010
3 Minutes to Enlightenment at the Red Light
Twice a year, I like to review past Marketing Mindfulness Moment articles and pull from the archives one that most resonates with me at the time. Out of all the weekly articles from last year, enlightenment jumped out at me and gave me pause. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Thank you for revisiting this article with me.
The Cushion. The Beach. The Red Light. Any of these will do for us to practice mindfulness. It is a curious thing how we are often so uncomfortable with being still and waiting. This past week I had several opportunities – (yes, opportunities) to be with my thoughts as I waited. And waited. And waited. So what is it about waiting and being still or silent, that gets us squirming?
Not only are some uncomfortable with their OWN attending to quiet, they want to stop others from practicing mindfulness in public. I remember a story that had national prominence about ten years ago where a father and his young children were praying for their terminally ill wife and mother in a public park. The park was nearby to the hospital where they had just visited the dying woman. The police were called by people who objected to the quiet prayer in a public venue. “They were sitting there praying in public!” was the outcry.
I had eight opportunities this week to practice mindfulness in a public place: the radiology waiting room, the not-so Express Line at the Grocery Store, my car as I idled behind the waste management vehicle who used the center of the road to efficiently collect waste receptacles on both sides of the street, and with three of my Alzheimer clients in my individual art therapy sessions with them.
To be real here, I am disclosing that in the Grocery Line, I was completely intolerant. I did NOT recognize the mindful moment nor appreciate with compassion and understanding the woman in front of me who left the line for a new retrieval, came back, and who spent over 7 minutes in the express line insisting on not one, not two, but three employees to verify her coupon. I eventually moved lanes (Hey! I was mindfully aware that I was uncomfortable, restless, and impatient) and was out the door while the four of them still argued, deliberated, and engaged with one another.
OK, so 7 out of 8 of these experiences were enlightened gifts to have me “power down” and provide me the opening to be present and aware.
Sometimes, that complete powering down of external stimuli makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. Yet it is exactly this art of vulnerability that serves to simplify our lives and empower us even more. This dichotomy is explained by Michael Carroll who suggests that we stop each day and “get to the cushion.” Just sit still. That’s all. Had I “taken to the cushion” that morning before the grocery express lane (an oxymoron in itself), I believe I would have been much more compassionate and had a more fulfilling outcome. And reviewing my awareness of my responses in the Express Lane, is perhaps a way to bring enlightenment after the fact.
When we seek the talent of simplicity, we can move beyond what in 1989, R.S. Wurman called: “information anxiety.” This phenomenon is what we experience when we have what adolescent pop culture deems as TMI – too much information; like having a High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) diet with little to nothing else. We even have a disorder for TMI called ADT: “attention deficit trait,” which has a starring role on our daily stages.
ADT reveals impatience, having a sense of “inner frenzy” and distraction; ADT is different from ADD, in that it is neurologically based and is a result of the RSS feeds that barrage us on a daily basis. (The irony here is the word, ‘simple’ in RSS, which means “Really Simple Syndication.”)
Getting to the cushion then, is where we find mindfulness and master the art of simplicity. When we get to the cushion, we stop our mind from being occupied. And that is difficult for most of us, as we are so accustomed to being busy and doing something. When we put off sitting still, we put off simplifying our lives.
The beach is a natural “cushion” for being still, yet what if the cushion is your driver seat at a red light? So be it. On the Gulf Coast of Florida where I live, we have 3 ½ minute traffic lights! While I am not suggesting that you close your eyes while idling at the red light, I am proposing that you attend to your awareness of your breath and thoughts in that present moment while at the red light. What do you notice? What do you see, hear, smell? What physiological sense do you have; what’s going on in your body?
In looking to the Tibetan Buddhist monks for answers as to why we are often restless, bored, and intolerant of being still, we dismiss their meditation practices with solid rationale: monks don’t have to drive in rush hour traffic; they live simpler lives than us. They don’t have to have to shop for a business suit for an important interview; in fact, their “job’ never included an interview in the first place. Yet maybe the very first time that they sat and meditated, they had random thoughts which darted through their now cultivated Zen-enlightened minds.
Ideally, we would meditate for 15 – 30 minutes a day. Try the grocery store line, rush hour traffic, (another article in itself), and notice what happens to your breath, your bodily muscles, and your mind. And then, let me know what happens when you next arrive on the cushion or the red light.