December 26, 2013
Today, my parents are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary (Happy Anniversary Mother and Dad!) :). Some of the things they taught me include thinking about others, empathy, kindness, caring, laughing (a lot), the importance of smiling, giving, and caring. I learned the importance of sitting outside at 2 am with everyone on lawn chairs watching a meteor shower and seeing who could spot the most shooting stars. I remember the joy from the smallest things–a new album that you saved up for, unwrapped and listened to (over and over, much to my parents’ chagrin!). I remember the smell of my grandmother’s house during the holidays, and the toughness of my feet after going around barefoot for the entire summer. I learned that people can love each other–and still do–even during the most trying times in life. I also remember being referred to by the local kids as “babe” during baseball season–not because of my ability to hit home runs, but because I was overweight, like Mr. Ruth himself. I learned that kids can be cruel to one another, including myself, based on nothing more than small differences in acuity or clothing. I learned that escaping “reality” by externally inducing another reality was expensive, dangerous, and ultimately futile. But I also learned that social hierarchies were artificial constructs, imposed by those who had more power because of their station in a given cultural milieu. At the age of 15, I learned that one could, if one tried, quiet one’s mind by simple techniques of meditation, such as narrowing one’s eyes and “taking in everything at once” without focusing on any one object (and I remember reading Carlos Castaneda’s series of books, only to be disappointed that he had, in fact, conjured up the entire thing). I remember thinking big thoughts and long conversations with friends over the state of the world and that we, as humans, had a right, no, an obligation, to help improve the lives of others. I remember scribbling on my college room wall a quote from a famous Greek philosopher, to wit: “The only thing I know is that I am ignorant.” I learned that while your past has important lessons for you, you also need to be aware that it can also contain the seeds of some pretty toxic fruit that can derail your life if you allow it to do so.
Today, I draw on all of these things to remind myself of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come, and that moments, good moments which seem to grow shorter all the time, can actually be extended by truly spending time and marveling at them–by taking in the good and truly internalizing the phenomenal, often hidden in the quotidien simplicity of life. So much of mindfulness has to do with not taking “people, places, things” for granted, and embracing them. The trick, though, is to do so even when circumstances aren’t ideal; when things are “hard,” and when sometimes we’re at our most vulnerable or weakened states. It’s easy to wax and act philosophically when you’re in a good mood; it takes real resilience to do so when you’re in a bad place emotionally. And so the journey–and “practice” (at getting better at life) continues into the new year. I came across the following graphic earlier today, and thought it captured a lot of the axioms that make good sense–intuitive, simple, memorable. A tip of the hat to Justin Kolber for this one.
Yours in Mental Hygiene
The Ancient Brain and Modern Mindfulness