I am home alone. Things are quiet. All around me birds are chirping. The loud leaf blower and lawn mower are gone. For the first time in a week I have the afternoon to be still. To do nothing. I had a stomach ache for awhile but now it is gone. All things pass.
Mindfulness practice has helped me to become fairly adept at becoming comfortable with discomfort. From my practice I have learned through experience that all physical and psychological pain and discomfort are always coming and going, which makes it a little easier for me to be present with what is. I don’t panic or worry about aches and pains like I used to in my more hypochondriacal days. I realize now that pains and discomfort come and go like the wind. I don’t need to freak out about it.
Thoughts and emotions are not as easy for me. In this moment it is easy to be mindful, to just be present with what is. I notice that my mind is active, it seems to be telling me that there is so much to be done, so much to do. “Move it! Get stuff done!” it yells as I sit here on my couch, but I can follow my breath, stay present with sounds, sensations, awareness and let that voice do its thing without needing “to do” much about it. Like the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron recommends- I smile into that rarely satisfied voice in my head, which seems to quiet it down.
I know that the root of the “Get stuff done!” voice is fear. Fear about not doing enough. Fear about not securing my future or present. Fear about not becoming the identity my ego wants to be. Through mindfulness practice and a lifetime of experience, I seem to be getting more adept at learning to make friends with fear. Fear seems to be as apart of me as my blood is and it is through learning how to live with it (rather than trying to pretend it is not there or numbing it out) that I seem to be experiencing more peace and contentment in life. I can see now that fear is just random and habitual thoughts projected onto an always uncertain future.
The afternoon breeze is blowing the wind chimes around. The vibratory bell like sounds are pleasant to hear. Birds are flying quickly around in my garden, playing in the mid-afternoon sun. My two German Shepherds are napping on the backyard wood deck, which thanks to the gardener is no longer covered with fallen leaves and heaps of dog hair.
Agitation, anger and worry. These emotions and the thoughts that come with them seem more challenging to deal with. This morning while I was driving in my car with a friend, who is also a fellow psychotherapist, I noticed that I felt agitated. He would not stop talking and he was talking at such a high speed that I felt agitation growing in my body like water coming to a boil. I find that it is most challenging to remain present when in the company of individuals who are not present at all. Their self-absorption seems contagious. It is always challenging for me to be in relationship with those who are not present, while simultaneously remaining present and non-reactive. This is a work in progress.
As I was driving, my psychotherapist friend was nowhere near where his body and breath were. He was in yesterday and tomorrow land. He was in analyze and judgement land. I forced myself to follow my breath and notice my sorroundings. It felt like lifting a heavy weight. “I am breathing in, I am breathing out,” I repeated silently to myself while trying to keep myself non-judgmentally open to what my friend was saying while also focusing on where I was. The more I followed my breath, the more my agitation became manageable and the less I wanted to tell him to “Just stop! Please take a breath man!”
An hour or so ago, Old Man Bob from the senior center (I pay him to come every few weeks and tend to my backyard), rang my doorbell. I was present as I was sitting on my couch but when I jumped up to answer my door I forgot about my breath. Thoughts like, “Who is it?” “Why is someone at my front door?” caused my heart rate to rise and my nervous system to go into a slight reactive mode. “How are you Randall?” Old Man Bob said with a smile as I opened my front door. “Hey Bob,” I replied with a smile. I told him that I would walk around back, put away the barking dogs and open the back gate for him.
As I walked into my backyard I instinctually slowed myself down. I noticed how becoming reactive had caused me to completely forget about my breath. I became aware of each step that I took and tuned back into the sound of birds and wind chimes. “Mindfulness practice is a practice of continually, again and again, returning our attention back to the present moment,” the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield often says.
It is so easy to stop being present but it takes some effort to return to the present. As I put away my dogs I noticed that the stomach ache I had had all night and into the morning was gone. Aware that I was breathing in and aware that I was breathing out, I mindfully walked over to the gate and was aware of the movements of my body as I pulled the gate open. It felt good to be aware in this moment rather than being absorbed in some future or past place in my head. Again a smile formed on my face.
Old Man Bob was standing there with his lawn mower and garden tools when I opened the gate. He was wearing shorts and a yellow t-shirt that said, “Still Maui Living!” “What a beautiful day to be alive,” he said with wrinkles collecting in the corners of his weathered face. I breathed in and out and agreed.