Thursday, January 01, 2009
The Mindfulness of JoyWe're in a new year. The town of Pasadena saw it in as it has for so many years -- with a compression of people, a heightening of energy, a mad frenzy that became uncorked this morning as over a million people watched the horses and the marching bands and the gloating floats, bedecked with profusions of springlike flowers. The stealth bomber flew overhead, filling the valley with its roar. The air crackled with brisk exuberant electricity. It's happened again; we've seen in the beginning of one more calendar year.
I am looking forward to this new year. In 20 days, the first politician I've ever fully believed in is going to take over the most powerful job on the globe. In six months, I'm getting married to a man I love completely. My life is full, and full of stories. Unfortunately, many of these stories cannot be discussed publicly in this forum, at least not as they've been unfolding. For someone like me, whose stock in literary trade usually stems from some delving into some juicy aspect of my personal life, this has been like starving to death in the middle of a sumptuous banquet.
I've been trying to watch to see what's noteworthy about happiness. Being happy is lovely, but different from what I had expected. What makes it different is very subtle. I am well versed in how to deal with adversity (take the blow, process it for three days with girlfriends, eat some ice cream, and when the stories start getting funny, I know I'm over the worst.) But how to deal with happiness? What kind of story does that become?
What I've noticed is that life these days seems to consist of discrete, almost painfully intense moments. It's like traveling in a new country; every moment is a postcard I want to write to myself so I can remember everything fully. I want to fold my life into some kind of full-sensory scrapbook, so I can pull these pieces out later, when I fear the muted colors will return, and the edges will be once again blurred by depression and ennui.
Here: I'm walking the dog one morning after the recent rains. It is cold but the sun is bright and shining on the world. There is so much moisture in the air that my breath comes out in steamy billows. I am walking Sam alone; Roger has gone on early to work, but our conversation still lingers in my ears and I am still feeling the warmth of our oatmeal in my body. I turn onto a side street and let Sam sniff around, and as I'm standing there I see that the tree I'm standing in front of is emitting swirling tendrils of steam as the rain evaporates in the sun. I look across the street and see that the same thing is happening with a rooftop: lines of steam snaking along the peak of the roof, wafting up into the cold blue sky. As I look, I see that all the other trees facing the sun are also steaming, and then the whole world is suddenly doing it. There is a sense of warmth emanating out into the cold and the world is now breathing with me and there is no difference whatsoever between me and the dog and the tree and the rooftop. We are all inhaling and exhaling together in this same moment of time.
Again: Christmas evening. We are at our friends' house with a group of other people and kids. The house is almost magical, it's so pretty. Everything is green and red and the soft glow of candles and the fireplace create a delicate, enveloping softness. The lights reflect in the windows and imply fairy lands just outside of reach. The food is bounteous and lip-smacking in its perfection. And after we're done eating and are still sipping our wine, we continue our conversation while the kids go back to their electronics. It is a good conversation; the kind that connects and inspires and makes you feel grateful to have lived long enough to participate in it.
There are seven of us: five in our fifties, one in her forties, and a mother in her seventies. And as I'm sitting there, I realize that years will roll over this table and, with luck, we'll spend many more Christmas nights engaged in other but similar conversations. We will get older. Members of our group will start to get sick, and die, and we will diminish. The potency of the friendships will prevail, but our physical bodies will change as we move through more time and life takes its toll.
It was classic Buddhist impermanence raising its head. The summation of the Buddha's philosophy summed up in three words: Not always so. I was struck by the ephemeral moment, and yet happy to stay within it for as long as it lasted. As with the feeling of oneness I had with the dog, I was having a deep meditative experience, without having done anything meditative in the least.
I hadn't realized this until this morning, but the feelings I've had recently are very similar to the state we strive for in meditation. That consciousness of the moment, the awareness of being right in the center of my being, tasting and smelling and experiencing things exactly as they happen. Not using the past to script the future. Not barreling over the present because it's unpleasant, or (perversely) too pleasant, or just unconscious. The thing I'm feeling is a LOT more like being in a deep meditative state of mindfulness, than it is like feeling "happy" all the time. It's not giddy. And it's not necessarily euphoric. It's extremely and intensely present.
I don't know which comes first: the joy or the mindfulness. But they are closely related, I believe. All I know is that these feelings of presence -- whether on the cushion or off -- are very similar. Not necessarily comfortable. Not necessarily easy. But absolutely dialed in to what is happening right now.
This is what I wish for myself and all of us this bright new 2009: a sense of being in our life right now as we are living it, an awareness of the moment from within the moment, and a deep appreciation of the gossamer threads that connect us to each other in our fleeting lives. The calendar leaves fly by so quickly. Let us know each moment as it presents itself.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:41 PM 3 comments