I was really proud of myself tonight. So proud, I'm thinking that what I did could be a tangible sign of my enlightenment, mini, or even micro, variety.
After finding a parking spot a couple of blocks from my 6 pm Tai Chi class in downtown Salem, I walked away from my VW GTI without going back and checking if I'd locked the car via a button on the door handle.
Now, this may not seem like something that distinguishes an enlightened being. It pales in comparison to what supposedly happened with the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree.
But given how often I do return to my car to peer into the driver's side window to see if the red "locked" light is flashing, I was decidedly pleased that even though doing this did pass through my mind, tonight I recalled hearing the clunk sound my GTI makes when a door is locked.
Thus this time I'd managed to be mindful of a habitual action: locking my car.
Many other times, way too many to count, I'd started thinking of something else I needed to do while my finger was pressing the lock button. Since the human brain has limited bandwidth, and really is able to do only one thing at a time skillfully, my lack of attention to what my body was doing at the locking-car moment often leaves me unsure if I'd done it.
Now that I've reached the age of 70 (which seems astoundingly old whenever I see it in writing), I'm paying more attention to the few pearls of wisdom I might be able to pass on to the young'uns. Here's one pearl, as prosaic as it may seem:
Try to keep your mind and body on the same page of reality.
This is Mindfulness 101, of course. Others have said the same thing, and better, in the many books I've read about meditation and mindfulness. For example, here's a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh's wonderful little book, "The Miracle of Mindfulness."
Our breath is such a fragile piece of thread. But once we know how to use it, it can become a wondrous tool to help us surmount situations which would otherwise seem hopeless. Our breath is the bridge from our body to our mind, the element which reconciles our body and mind and which makes possible one-ness of body and mind.
Breath is aligned to both body and mind and it alone is the tool which can bring them both together, illuminating both and bringing both peace and calm.
Life is short. The older we get, the more this becomes obvious. Some people deal with this fact by making a Bucket List of things they want to accomplish before, as the saying goes, they kick the bucket.
I used to embrace that sort of attitude.
But now I've come to feel something different, and seemingly more attainable. I simply want to be as fully aware as possible of whatever it is I'm doing until I take my last breath. What that whatever is doesn't matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.
By which I mean, there's an unbridgeable gulf between (1) existing as a living being, and (2) dying and not existing at all.
(I'm an atheist, so I don't believe in life after death. However, even religious people should admit there is no solid proof of this, so my point holds for everybody in my decidedly personal opinion.)
So let's say I write a best-selling book -- which previously was on my Bucket List. So what? How does that change my life? How does it affect my everyday existence? I still need to fix my breakfast, wash dishes, walk the dog, and, yes, lock my car. If I'm thinking of how great an author I am while doing those things, I've lost part of my living.
Again, Thich Nhat Hanh makes this point way better than I can.
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes.
In fact, we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands.
Thus we are sucked away into the future -- and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.