Follow Your Mind

Practicing presence isn’t as easy as you think. I was given a challenge to focus on one thing for an hour.

This day in early November, I had a no particular plan but many possible options to choose from. I chose to work on a knitting basket of incomplete projects for one hour. I moved a little table to the back porch. I made myself comfortable on the sunny back porch with a cup of yerba mate tea. It felt rather decadent to devote this time to a single task. Settling in, I realized I didn’t have the directions in the basket to make the knitted rosette. Ah, they were nearby and easy to retrieve. Settling in again on the back porch, I thought it would be good to set a timer so that I wouldn’t miss a 3:00 p.m. appointment. I got up to do that. Returning to my spot, I noticed a plant that needed attention…pruned a few leaves and gave it some water.

Now where was I? Beginning to knit my rosette, right. I noticed a car driving through the back alley as I refocused on the knitting in front of me. My thoughts shifted to my oldest daughter, age 42, and with a learning disability. A sudden concern followed by a feeling of anger. What’s my role here? Remembering that she’s an adult in charge of her own life with her own helpers, guides and angels. Back to what’s my part here? To be myself with her and allow her to be herself with me! There’s nothing wrong and no one to fix. Urgh.

Back to knitting, warm sun on my face and arm. Cast on 66 sts. I wonder how long it takes to complete a rosette. The wind outside shakes leaves off the fruit trees. Should I get a cookie from the freezer to go with my tea? Did I leave Cee’s box of cookies in the car? I haven’t had the satisfaction of uninterrupted knitting in a very long time. I’ve got to send a card to Nan! Then, I don’t want to be anywhere else right now.

What would it be like to continually find respite in each and every moment? Like sinking into life without resistance? Repetitive motions, warm afternoon sun, sleepy reverie. Purl one row, knit one row, purl one row, yawn. Stand. Stretch. The mailman hasn’t come. What if I could notice all thoughts as neutrally as that one thought? Aha, the mailman just came, leaving two packages which I save to open later. A wave of sadness, a desire to take a time out of my life and do what? I notice a pain in my left knee; the neighbor’s barking dog. I want to defrost a cookie. I take two cookies from the freezer. Thirty minutes left. Time is getting short. A bird’s tweet. Mind wanders to a caption on a painting I happened to see earlier–“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” I notice how I like some thoughts and others, I don’t like. Is the goal not to get snagged by any of them? I should take a B vitamin. Return to presence with activity at hand. It takes a while to settle down and settle in. Being present with someone or something is to give the best of myself. It helps to do things that make me feel settled inside, like knitting this rosette. Giving quiet presence feels important. I have awareness of this but seldom do it or allow it. I’m used to fragmentation and doing things piecemeal. A little time for this or that, scattered energy. Annoyance. Dissatisfaction. Thoughts veer to the next thing on the to-do-list and the next.

Puffy white clouds, blue sky, sun. I miss having my good old friend to talk with although the other part–the unruly angst between us wasn’t worth it or was it? Could we have grown through it? The porch turns cold as clouds cover the sun. What would it be like to be minding my own affairs and allowing others to mind theirs?

There’s the timer! One hour to knit a rosette! Anger when I get into someone else’s business. Back off. I finish off the rosette. Sometimes, I like being a stranger somewhere. Sometimes, I like anonymity. I like anonymity or just being new to a place, new to people–just passing through.

****
Is there a moral to this one-hour of focused attention. I notice how I sit somewhere and go anywhere and what thoughts trigger me. Am I open to what I’m seeing following this exploration? I see that attention moves quickly. To bring attention to what is present is a real practice. Am I gone or present to every thing that comes into my life? When am I most present? What holds my attention?
****
Have you ever followed your mind? What did you experience?

Being Present

Being Present. Sages believe that there is wisdom in this. Yet, how many of us really live this way? Why don’t we? Too much baggage from the past? Too much worry over the future? Both of which are no longer in our control. We’ve heard that the present is the gift. That we only have power in the present.

Yet, for me, it feels like somehow I avoid the present in one way or another. Thoughts slip in sideways and take me down a path I don’t care to go. And then, the moment is lost to me. I don’t think we can ever effectively escape these sideways distractions. They seem to be integral to our lives. We’re often planning for the next thing. However, once-in-awhile, I have that experience of being precisely where I am, doing (or not doing) exactly what I’m doing. Sometimes, I’m fully present with someone else. I’m seeing them, hearing them, responding to them, experiencing the moment with them. Yet, it’s so rare. How come I can’t harness the fleeting moment and be comfortable within it?

Here’s a poem where I pondered just that…

And Then What?
by Christine O’Brien

on stopping and being present

in this one particular moment

leaving everything pending, undone

unattended

I read that if I died

all the activities

I deemed important

would die with me

for who would be interested

in taking up the threads of my existence

and continuing the odd weave?

sometimes I don’t want

this warp and woof I’ve created.

start anew…

I wonder if there is another me

on another side

of this thinning veil

cheering me on

rah rah

if I could claw a way through to her

merge with her

know the secrets

I already know

live the life

that dreamers awaken to

be real

on this plane

could I drop all the tasks

so self-important

really live while I’m alive? 

oh sweet adventure

oh daring & renewed fascination

now, the wind does howl

and the wood crackles in the stove

spring has slipped backwards

into winter

it’s been a long day

the bath is ready

I’m tired

and anything profound

is more than I desire

this stopping and being present

is so lush.

****
Do you feel you are fully present, partially present or rarely present to what’s in front of you? Today? Right now?

Now…and Then

“10,000 flowers in spring
the moon in autumn
a cool breeze in summer
snow in winter–
If your mind is not clouded
by unncecssary things
this is the best season of your life.”
by Wu-Men (Chinese poet)

Isn’t that a secret we’d like to have an answer to–how to stay present within this moment and not drift off into the past, future, fear, worry, conjecture, etc?  At least more of the time. Being present to one’s daily life experience is desirable.

However, when we write (or paint or create art), we move in all directions, don’t we? There is very little that is linear about the creative process, especially in the initial stages.  That said, I begin with an intention.  Even if I seem to veer off course.  For me, setting a creative intention rouses personal process. The goal then is to stay present with my process as I write or paint–wherever it might take me (even when it changes course from my original creative intention).

Year ago, I began reading a translation of the French author, Marcel Proust’s classic, Remembrance of Things Past, otherwise known as In Search of Lost Time.  At that time, I found that reading the first volume (one of seven) was both laborious and tedious.  My mind stumbled over the slow revelation and wanted to skip ahead to get to the story behind the array of descriptive words.

Today, I realize that one of the author’s intentions was to explore memory itself and take the reader on a journey through his process around resurrecting his memories.  He considered both voluntary memory and involuntary memory.  An often recounted episode from his book is the memory evoked when tasting a madeleine cake dipped in tea!

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”
— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

WRITING PROMPT:
Invoking a memory is considered a voluntary memory as you have chosen to retrieve a memory from the past and write about it. Proust compares voluntary memory to involuntary memory–which has a visceral quality to it and can therefore be expressed as a vivid and direct experience with greater impact for the writer and the reader.
Have you had this experience…something in the moment triggers an old memory and brings it fully into the present…so much so that all of your senses are awakened around that memory?  Have you written it down?

****
In the movie Ratatouille, at the end, the food critic is sampling the chef’s ratatouille dish and is transported back to his childhood and the savory comfort food that his mother served him.  He is personally comforted by the memory as his tastebuds approve of the dish.

(Click on the play arrow and then click on “YouTube” on the bottom right corner and you will go directly to this clip.)