These three simple words of advice from author and spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, connect us to the attentive and aware state we call mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are aware of our body, our feelings, and our actions in the present moment. Buddhism teaches that mindfulness is the path to freedom, wisdom, and enlightenment.
Try being mindful now. Where are you sitting? How does your seat feel? Is any part of your body straining, tired, or in need of a small adjustment? If so, bring your attention to that place. Breathe into it and allow the body to adjust itself in order to feel a bit more relaxed. Mindfulness opens channels for creativity, compassion, joy, and love.
I tend to become more mindful when I’m scared. For example, I was thinking of the first time I bathed my infant daughter in 1964. I had no experience with slippery, wailing, little red bodies. I laid out a towel next to the sink. I cleaned the sink carefully, and began to fill it with just-right warm water. Checked again with the other hand just to be sure my skin on the first hand hadn’t acclimated and the water really was too hot. Folded the wash cloth. Unfolded the wash cloth for easier access. Laid out a diaper and diaper pins next to the towel. Finally, I opened the little holes in the lid on the bath powder. Ready.
Gently cradling her melon-sized head and squirmy little wrinkled feet, I held my breath without realizing it. She weighed only slightly more than five pounds, having arrived three weeks early, and been in the hospital for a week. Now, the time had come for her first bath. Gently the warm water flowed over her bottom, over her arms, her eyes opening wider, breath quiet.
Lesson of the Three-inch Clearance One evening not long ago, we had a family get- together at my house. Over dinner, my grown son, Gunther, started telling us about an incident that had happened to him a couple of days before. Hearing it, I couldn’t help being anxious for his safety, yet laughing at the same time. Each of the experiences in his story is a good example of everyday mindfulness. I’ll let him tell it in his own words.
“I was checking out my compost pile in the backyard last week. I had so much stuff in the box that I was afraid the natural bacterial breakdown wouldn’t be fast enough. I used to have a worm box in San Francisco, and so I decided to get some worms.
About an hour later, I was listening to the local college radio, KALX, and an advertisement from BayWorms.org came on. I checked out their Web site, and put in an order for a Vermi Start-up Kit. Within thirty minutes, I received a response from Mickey at BayWorms that I had been put on the waiting list for a Vermi Start-up Kit. An hour later I received an email saying that my worm kit was ready! Wow, fast service. I could pick it up next Tuesday. They said they’d be there around lunch-time. On Tuesday I roped a co-worker, who commutes to work by bike, to join me for a trip, from where we work in Emeryville, to the community garden in Alameda, where BayWorms is located.
We mapped out our ride and set off on Mandela Parkway through West Oakland towards China town and….the Posey Tube! [Alameda is on an island near Oakland, California.] After scratching our heads for ten minutes, we finally found the bicycle entrance into the hole known as the Tube. Bicycles have to travel along a raised walkway about thirty inches wide, with a curved tile wall on one side and fifty-mile-an-hour traffic on the other. On my Xtracycle, the width of the handle bars leaves about three inches of clearance on either side.
Twenty yards into the Tube, my heart was in my throat. Over the traffic noise, I yelled back at my co-worker, Chris, not daring to shift around to look at him. ‘Are you cool with this?’ Chris said, ‘Let’s do it.’
I took one big breath, tried to hold it, and continued into the depths. At this point in the Tube, you can’t see the other end. You’re just driving forward on faith that there will be an end–that you won’t choke on the fumes, and that you won’t flip over into the on-coming traffic.
Fortunately, we didn’t encounter anybody coming in the opposite direction. Emerging from the Tube into a no-man’s strip of earth between the lanes entering the Tube, we started winding our way through the main streets of Alameda toward the garden.
After two miles of pedaling, we turned into the neighborhood that hosts the community garden. At this point I looked over at Chris, and said, ‘If the marketing material for this ride wasn’t perfectly clear, let me tell you right now, that our final destination is a low-income housing project.’
After a detour into the Plowshares for Swords Community Garden (which is not where BayWorms is located), we arrived at the Alameda Point Community Garden. Much to our chagrin, we saw no one there. Chris asked if I had told them I was coming, and I said, ‘Yes! Mickey promised me he’d be here.’