Monday, February 7, 2011
"Mindfulness benefits from the ability to concentrate attention but is not the same as concentration. It is a quality that human beings already have, but they have usually not been advised that they have it, that it is valuable, or that it can be cultivated. Mindfulness is the awareness that is not thinking but is aware of thinking, as well as each of the other ways we experience the sensory world; that is, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling through the body. Mindfulness is nonjudgmental and openhearted (friendly and inviting of whatever arises in awareness). It is cultivated by paying attention purposefully, deeply, and without judgment to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us. By intentionally practicing mindfulness, deliberately paying more careful moment-to-moment attention, individuals can live more fully and less on "automatic pilot," thus being more present in their own lives."--Jeff Brantley, from his essay Mindfulness FAQ in the essay anthology The Mindfulness Revolution:Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life, edited by Barry Boyce and the editors of the Shambhala Sun
It's hard to pay attention. I took the puppy out for a walk and figured I'd also pick up my dry cleaning since I was going out and coming back anyway. Carmelita wanted to sniff around at the yellow snow in front of our apartment building. Apparently, dog urine and other smelly substances are like a message board between dogs. Carmelita was just trying to get to know her neighbors. But I was already running late for work and nudged her to move on. Dogs can be as stubborn as cats, I've discovered. She just sat there and refused to move, probably sensing that I was too soft-hearted to pull too hard on the leash. Finally she finished reading the urine and followed behind me, then sprinted ahead of me. The sidewalks were covered in slush and ice and I'm surprised I didn't break a few vital leg bones.
We were halfway to the dry cleaner when she stopped again to watch the recycling truck pick up the bright blue containers filled with mixed plastic and paper. It must have sounded formidable to her--this metal monster creaking and screeching as it stopped in front of house after house. Or maybe she was just captivated by the smell of soggy milk cartons and cat food cans and their remnants of meat. Then Carmelita wanted to know what the girl walking toward us smelled like, and if she was open to being jumped on and then licked many, many times in the face. The girl looked like she was heading to class, and not wanting to break the invisible barrier between us, I swung Carmelita way to the right of her.
Then there were the birds. Had she even heard birds before? Their sounds captivated her; she looked all around her for what was making that sound she didn't recognize. The smells, sounds, tastes (there always seems to be something delectable in a dirty puddle)--she was taking it all in. Meanwhile I kept hurrying her on, feeling guilty but wanting my clean and nicely-pressed clothes. How could I be so selfish that I'd rush her when she was so engaged in nature?
No time for that. I picked her up and carried her away.
It's been a learning experience living with a puppy. They say that married couples can bring out both the best and worst in each other. Well, so can dog ownership. Having to take care of a puppy and give her our full attention has been harder than I anticipated, no matter how cute she is when she wrestles with her stuffed hedgehog toy, giving it the death grip and shaking it while making escalating "grrr" sounds, like Frankenstein when he gets increasingly angry about something. We have discovered how undisciplined we can be and how we both itch at the thought of a set schedule. We're both easily distracted and have always had to work hard to show up on time. But a set schedule is what is needed. That, and lots of play time and walk time--time that we didn't think we had enough of even before we brought the puppy home.
But when I do let myself relax and enjoy a walk around the block at night or a long game of tug-of-war with the chewed-up-meat-twist, the automatic pilot I'm on goes out, and I'm back to actually being engaged in the world. I'm not missing it all by walking too fast to some destination or being in such a thick cloud of thoughts that I don't notice my surroundings because I'm busy worrying over something abstract. Carmelita doesn't know that she's mindful. But I do. And I can actually choose to be more mindful.
Mike bought me a pink oval sticker with a drawing of a dog with a halo over his head. It says "Dog is good." Yes.