Share This

Hippie Squared: I Think, Therefore I Ramble Through My Moments

I’ve been working on mindfulness lately.

What do I mean by that? Well, to take myself as the starting point: I think, therefore I ramble. I think and think and think and therefore I am unfocused.

I like thinking. I’m a fan of it. I’m doing it pretty much all the time. But too often my thoughts are like a kite on a cross-windy day—leaping up, diving down, darting left, darting right, executing a spontaneous pattern of loops and curls and straight short shots.

My thinking is often a speech, or a dialogue, or a monologue, directed outward, toward an imagined audience of one or millions. I am explaining how I came to write a poem. I’m holding forth on Obama and the ungovernability of the United States in the 21st century. Maybe I’m lost in a righteous argument with someone. Or just telling a funny story, or saying something wise.

Rarely am I thinking directly to myself.

More importantly, in a way, for mindfulness: rarely am I standing solidly in my present space and time, without a constant commentary track that usually isn’t even talking about the movie I’m watching—what’s actually going on in the here and now. It’s off somewhere and somewhen else—a remembered past, an imagined future, a conjured alternate timeline.

I’ve written here before about my theory of the moment as the essential unit of human experience. Like an atom is to matter, the moment is to our experience of our lives.

And because each of us is different from each other and moving through time on our own individual track, each moment you have belongs only to you. No one else gets your moment. And you get each moment only once. You can never recreate it. At best you can only partially recall it.

So it’s in our supreme interest to experience each moment as fully as we can. To take in all the sights, the sounds, the whole sensory wash of it.

I think about when I studied basketball for a few years, trying to better understand the game, and a coach in a book talked about how to watch the game. He said the natural tendency for spectators is to follow the ball. But much of what’s important in the game is away from the ball, in the defense, in how the players line up, in where they stand, in how they break and cut.

So this coach talked about “letting your eyes go soft,” to see the whole court. Center on the ball, maybe, or pick a center point spatially, and observe as much of the action, the movement, the patterns, as you can all at once.

I’ve tried to do that as a meditation practice on the moment–let my senses go soft, to take in as much of it as I can. It’s not easy. Hard to do, harder to sustain.

One method I’ve read about for developing this capability: exercise each sense discretely, as a practice. If you’re in a meeting and you’re bored, listen for every sound in the room, outside in the hall or the street, within your range of hearing. Next time do the same with sight, then with taste, with scent, with touch. Then try to pull them all together.

Don’t know about you, but my constant compulsive self-talk, which in my case is often directed toward imaginary outsiders, drains my ability to attend fully to each moment. I know this.

So I’ve been listening to a Thich Nhat Hanh CD in the car, called “Meditations on the Present Moment,” which has a number of simple exercises one can practice to work on this stuff, most of which take only a few breaths to do their marvelous work.

The simplest is just to breathe consciously three to five times, saying to yourself, “in,” as you breathe in and “out” as you breathe out. It’s remarkably centering. Hanh says the breath is the bridge between your mind and body, and sonfabitch, he’s got that exactly right. You’re automatically in the present, yanked back here and set in place, by really noting your breath.

Another great one is, “mountain, solid.” You breathe in and picture yourself as a mountain, and as you breathe out, you think of yourself as solid. Just the simple words are the code once you’ve done it a couple of times: in, “mountain,” out, “solid.” The feeling of rootedness and calm, emotional solidity, is oddly automatic if you just hold that picture and say those words.

With practice, I’ve found myself more often during a day grabbing hold of my breath and roving consciousness for a moment or even a few moments in a row, and really riding through them with all hands on deck. I have a long way to go, but I think I can increase the frequency and quality if I keep at it.

Wish me luck. And if you care to give it a try yourself, let me know how it goes.