Wherever Mindfulness Finds You

Surely this spring will not be remembered as just any other spring. For just as the crocuses are teasing us with tender blossoms and their promise of new life, so it is that hardship and even death lurk just over the horizon. A global pandemic has already taken some of us, and it will take an unknown number more. Surely all can see that life will not be the same for quite some time, if ever.

How strange it is to lose that which we’ve taken so for granted! I now look back with fondness at the simple joy of sitting in a coffee shop on a weekend morning. And I lament that we were too busy to take my wife out for a nice meal on her birthday this past weekend, the last weekend we could have done so before the restaurants were ordered closed. I also just happened to visit the library earlier this week to renew my card, only to be told that they’d be closing the following day. How strange it is to say goodbye to one thing after another that all seemed so commonplace as to hardly be worth mentioning two weeks ago, but which now hang like tantalizing fruits just out of reach. Life seems to have lost its gorgeous ordinariness!

What is life, anyway, but long stretches of ordinary scenery from which we sometimes climb to joyous heights, or from which we sometimes descend into dark foreboding canyons? Those who’ve read this blog over the years know that I once returned home after a very ordinary workday and workweek only to find that my wife would never grace its rooms again. And how could I not think of that canyon from which I climbed as I met someone in recent days who’d been diagnosed with cancer just last month, and who would be facing life-changing, and perhaps even life-threatening surgery in this one. And all around us the gorgeous ordinariness of life seems to have taken leave!

At times such as this – when we’re staring into the abyss and wondering as to the very meaning of existence – it’s quite common for our religious inclinations to come to the fore. Perhaps we’re overcome with regret for having wasted so much time when we could have been practicing in whatever way our tradition would have us practice. If only we’d spent more time preparing ourselves spiritually for the hardship to come! Maybe then we’d be so much more settled and grounded than we are. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so haunted by doubt and fear. Maybe then we’d rise above these feelings of anger and ill will, and these urges to gratify our senses and build up our sense of self. And maybe then we wouldn’t be sinking into gray dullness, weighed down by leaden thoughts and a general malaise.

We have no choice but to face this broken world just as it is, with whatever heart and mind we have. And that is precisely what mindfulness entails. Any thoughts of superiority or inferiority of spiritual attainment are mere delusions. In fact, the very idea of spiritual attainment is one of the most seductive delusions of all. Mindfulness begins right where we are. And right where we are is an incomparable place for the sages and the distracted alike.

It was sunshiny and warm the other day – the day that I first realized the gravity of what we’d all soon be facing. I went for a run down to the river as I often do. And as I ran I thought about what it would be like to survive this virus with scarred lungs that left me unable to ever run again. Needless to say, it was not just any ordinary run. And yet it was. Upon returning I passed one of my neighbors, an older woman with a crooked back and an out-of-kilter gait. I didn’t recall ever seeing her on a walk before. And as we passed we smiled big smiles at each other in greeting, as if the world could not be any better than the gorgeous ordinariness we were feeling.

Copyright 2020 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.


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