Mindfulness, the gift of Eternity

I guess today is something like Day 16 of my medical leave. The longest vacation I’ve ever taken was two weeks, which means this is now the longest I’ve been not working in seventeen years. (I originally wrote “the longest I’ve been idle,” but realized that that was judgmental.)

Today I started exploring mindfulness, at my therapist’s suggestion. Mindfulness is the Buddhist practice of deliberately staying awake to what’s around you. Seeing the world as it is, and accepting that. I see it as living in the present, not in the past or future like we so often do. I came across a quote a long time ago that goes something like this: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” As someone who has diagnosed depression and anxiety, I can relate to that. I view that “peace” as something akin to mindfulness. I’ve also often thought that “peaceful present-living” is exactly what Jesus Christ offers to us…that it’s exactly what “eternal life” is. As I’ve told my congregation many times, eternal does not literally mean “everlasting” (though that is one possible interpretation of it). Eternal literally means “out of time,” not in the sense of “running out of time,” but rather in the sense of being separate from time. “God is eternal” doesn’t mean that God lasts forever, not exactly. It means that God is not subject to time. It means that God stands apart from time. And so “eternal life,” which Christ offers to us, is not necessarily “life after death,” and is certainly not restricted to the afterlife. Rather, it means a way of living today, not beholden to time, not stuck in the past or the future like we so often are. In a word, a life of mindfulness.

My therapist recommended that I look into the author Jon Kabat-Zinn. I browsed through his books, and chose to purchase Wherever You Go, There You Are. I just read a bit today. I intend to read it slowly, just a bit a day, to slowly take it in and practice what I learn. Several times today, I stopped what I was doing, and just paid attention to my breath. I noticed where I was, what I was doing, and then afterward made a decision of what I would do next. It was calming and peaceful. However, these were all in the first half of the day, when things were going well. This evening, I learned a few things that I found very frustrating:

  • My computer’s wireless card is acting up, and I’m having trouble with my internet connection.
  • I learned that the hotels around Hopkinsville, KY, where I intend to watch the total solar eclipse this summer, have jacked up the prices of their rooms by something like 500% for that week. (I guess they’re making hay while the sun…err…doesn’t shine.) That has led me to wonder if I should bother. Is this really the best way to spend my money?
  • The kids were rather frustrating at dinner time.
  • I’m annoyed that I still haven’t heard back from a website where I recently submitted a story for online publication.

I had so little patience. I was frustrated and cranky. I was most certainly not living in the present moment. And I forgot to try this new mindfulness trick. Or more accurately, I just decided not to bother trying it. I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel calm, and I didn’t want to try to feel calm. I’ve forgiven myself for this: I’ve been at this mindfulness thing now for all of eight hours. I’ve read about 5% of one book about it. There’s really no reason to expect myself to be an expert yet. But this is now a goal for these next few months: practice mindfulness in the calm moments. Practice it enough so that it becomes a habit, a habit I can then use during the stressful moments when it’s really necessary.

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