On this day of giving thanks, I’m reflecting on the gifts of mindfulness in my life and in the lives of those I practice with in community. This time of tremendous change has created a sort of proving ground for our practice. The unfolding joys and challenges, losses and new discoveries, as well as the mundanities of daily life provide rich opportunities for this important work. It seems to me that under the most trying conditions, the fruits of our communal efforts are even more apparent and appreciated.
One of the gifts of mindfulness I’m most thankful for is community. My practice has brought so many wonderful people into my life. Spending time in these communities has exposed me to greater diversity of people and perspectives. Just this morning I practiced yoga with a dozen souls and a kind yoga teacher who volunteered her time on a day many people take off from work. This always helps to prepare me to be the best I can be as I gather with family. My personal practice has also cultivated more patience, compassion and appreciation for folks society has disconnected me from or who I’ve found challenging to be with. It’s been heart expanding to watch folks who felt terribly alone in the world find connection, build social confidence, and make friendships through community practice meetings.
Even the seemingly inconsequential minutia of everyday life becomes a canvas for the emerging brush strokes of practice. When I first began practicing mindfulness, it was very curious to me how my attitude toward certain chores and obligations changed. I became more attuned to the hollowness I felt doing some of the things society elevates as noteworthy or noble. At the same time, I relaxed into a deep enjoyment of some of the duties society tends to ignore or take for granted. Though there’s certainly some material and ego-cost to shifting away from societally conditioned priorities, I’ve found much fulfillment in aligning my actions with what I experience as most essential. As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Only this actual moment is life”.
A round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our practice, which will put us on the path. It is our path. – Gil Fronsdal
Under especially challenging conditions, these shifts in attitude are even more pronounced. A fellow practitioner and friend fell and injured himself on a solo retreat in the mountains far from home. In significant pain, he barely made it back to his quarters and couldn’t pack up and travel home for the holiday. It’s been a wonder to observe him turn this misfortune into an extended retreat with his pain as the primary object of attention, curiosity and self-compassion.
Several “sangha” members have faced devastating illnesses, are caring for seriously ill family members and friends, lost loved ones to divorce or death, experienced severe financial hardship, changed residences, or navigated a career change. I’ve observed with a sense of amazement an uncommon level of courageous vulnerability and tenderness, patience and fierce self-compassion that appeared to buoy them through these rough and uncertain waters with resilience.
It is easy to become overwhelmed in the face of loss and world crisis, and yet we have this gift of mindfulness to keep us sane and even grow through it all. – Heather Stang, MA
I’m awed by how mindfulness can help transform suffering. My husband’s parents’ home (and entire county) was destroyed by Hurricane Ian. To our great relief, they agreed to stay with us while they rebuild. I credit my practice for a degree of spaciousness to look beyond our powerful cultural stereotypes to discover, with delight, we’re really providing each other mutual aid. We’re offering them a soft place to rest and regroup and they’re providing us loving companionship, the wisdom of long-lived lives within a stable marriage, insight into aging, and the experience of living as adults in a cohesive family unit. This is an unexpected treasure that my practice has helped me to savor.
The gifts of everyday mindfulness seem to me to include greater openness and expanded capacity to meet what presents itself in each moment. This openness extends to our relationships with one another and our environment, and often reveals unexpected benefits – or at least a degree of workability. Mindfulness allows us to occupy, for increasing periods of time and under a wider range of experiences, a balance point somewhere between the Midwest stoicism I grew up with and the reactionary neuroticism that might be its opposite. Rather than bouncing between aversion and grasping/clinging – the painful contraction and separation of not-wanting (denial, hatred, despair, etc.) and the futile pursuit and desperate clutch of miswanting (craving, greed, envy etc.) – we’re able to experience our feelings with curiosity and compassion and see things more clearly, often leading to wiser responses and joyful discoveries previously hidden in plain sight.
Mindfulness is like that—
it is the miracle which can call back in a flash
our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness
so that we can live each minute of life
― Thich Nhat Hanh