In a past life I might have been a cowboy. I may not be wrangling horses these days but I’m always trying to wrangle people into my big ideas. Darrell is no exception and often poses my biggest challenge because he’s learned to be cautious whenever I launch into, “Wouldn’t it be fun (or great, or interesting) if…”
He looked at me sideways, hesitant, when I first approached him about practicing meditation. I had recently applied for a certification program to teach mindfulness to students and had been turned down with the recommendation that I develop a secular meditation practice. Never mind that I was already teaching mindful practices to my students and could see the benefits. Never mind all those Saturday mornings my mother dragged me to religion classes, my year at interfaith seminary, the contemplative bread workshops I offered, or the weekends of silence after my mom passed away at the abbey of the Genessee. If I wanted credentialing, I’d have to add in a secular practice.
I wasn’t opposed to trying meditation but sought out Darrell’s comradery because I had some trepidation about my ability to stick to it. Having him along would keep me accountable so it didn’t matter that he offered only a tentative yes. I’d wrangled him in.
After our first day of instruction and practice, he was quiet, the second day indifferent, and by day three he was done. “It’s not really my thing,” he said sympathetically.
He could have cared less when I challenged, “You’ll be a mindfulness drop out!” Darrell is a pack-mule when his mind is made up and no amount of cajoling is going to move him anywhere he doesn’t want to go.
Though I was in the same boat as he was with our practice there was a part of me that wanted to paddle on a little further. Still feeling a need for companionship, I brought the dog in to sit with me. Though Milo listened way more intently to instruction than either Darrell or I, when he started racing me to my cushion to sit down and offer hand-licking distractions he was out.
Inch by inch I found myself looking forward to practice; even getting up earlier in the day so I’d have time to sit quietly before heading off to work. I felt more connected to myself, to others, to life as I began to trust my capacity to hold whatever was in front of me, whether pleasant or unpleasant, with kindness. If it was good for me, surely it was good for Darrell. Was there no way to get him into the mindfulness corral?
As soon as I think I know something (like what’s best for Darrell), the universe begins to reveal a bigger picture. As I dug my heels of determination in to help Darrell be more mindful I watched him taking daily note of the sun, the snow, the temperature and the trees. “Had I noticed the days gaining just a few additional minutes of light each day?” he wondered aloud. “Would it be below freezing tonight?”
I was at a loss. Having been paying such close attention to the silent world within me, I hadn’t noticed any of the small changes happening around me.
There isn’t a predetermined start date for maple sap to begin to flow – it is completely up to the weather and varies from year to year which requires keen attention to the subtle shifting of winter into spring.
Was I missing a piece of the mindful puzzle? Darrel was, mindfully if I may, paying attention for the right moment to get that first drop of sap into his buckets so we could build up our waning supply of syrup to carry us through the year.
If mindfulness meant being present to what was in front of me, moment to moment awareness, as a way of living rather than an end goal, wasn’t Darrell doing the same thing albeit a different form?
I stopped trying to harness Darrell and let go of the judgments, disguised as good intention, that had surfaced.
Pema Chodron, a teacher and author whose words I cherish, says quite simply, “Where you are – that’s the place to start.”
Quiet meditation practices have become an important part of helping me maneuver the world and my place in it but Darrell’s doorway to mindfulness is with open eyes to the world around him.
At an art festival recently a woman stopped us to inquire about Darrell’s pickle shirt. “My husband and I have a pickle-truce,” she quipped. “Whenever we have a disagreement that can’t (or maybe doesn’t need to) be solved, we’ve learned to let it go. Once we recognize we’re stuck one of us always asks, ‘Are we going to pickle this and keep it on the shelf forever?’”
No pickling necessary on this one! Darrell and I could focus on the differences in our practices or look for what’s the same. Traditional meditation practices, noting the subtle changes in the world around us, walking, writing, kneading dough or even doing yoga can all be practices for being in the present moment. Intention seems to be the key.
There’s a Hindu proverb that says there are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesn’t matter which path you take.The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong. In a world so focused on what separates us, this is a great time to take the words of Ram Dass to heart and entertain the possibility that, “We are all just walking each other home.”
We’d love to hear what keeps you centered and in the moment-to-moment living of life! Feel free to comment in or consider joining Darrell and I at the Gates Public Library on May 20 for our program Locally Sweet! There’s a little something for everyone in this program. We hope to see you! You can always find out what we’re up to on our Facebook page: Kneading Life/Mindful Homesteaders.