Sunday, May 2, 2010


I had something happen to me which is a funny but common occurrence the other day. I was outside taking my dog walkies (we don't really say that in this house) waiting for him to decide that his bladder and bowels really were better off being emptied before heading back to the house when I stopped to admire the stars that were still in the sky and the receding moon on the skyline. There was a bit of drifting mist and the bird calls were wonderfully varied and bright for a day that had not technically started yet. I was enjoying the hell out of it, feeling the morning's cool damp breeze on my cheek, hearing the calls, smelling the good, cool earth and the greenness of the things we walked over. I was smiling broadly, my cheeks turned upwards to the pinkening sky.
Then Zen lurched forward at something and tugged the leash, which made me realize Oh shit, I was paying attention to that instead of walking the dog.
Then came the mental dilemma for me. I suspect that a lot of people don't take note of these things when they're walking their dog in the morning. They take the beast outside, follow them around, impatiently wait for them to relieve themselves, then hurry back to the house where they can make their breakfast and get back to their day of "doing stuff".
I had thought initially that because I had to be outside, taking in everything that surrounded me might mean i was being mindful, in the moment. I had to be outside because the dog needed to be outside, and while there I might as well look around and breathe, enjoying what surrounded me. Like the man being chased by a tiger who stopped to pick the strawberry and eat it, except less with dangerous tigers and falling and strangely placed farmer's produce. I was trying to cultivate an appreciation for the situation I was in, which is why if I'm in the middle of seeming nowhere and grinning, it's because I've probably noticed something about the environment and smiled at it. It's an almost automatic reaction at this point, seeing and hearing these things just makes me happy.
But then comes the thought that I am attempting to find something pleasant to focus on while walking the dog. I was not, in fact, being mindful of walking him. Or maybe I was and taking in the environment around me is part of that; but this is where I grow confused about things.
For a few moments there was nothing going through my mind but the sound of that birdsong. There was nothing but the feel of that breeze. And from what I am told and what I have experienced in the past, that sure felt like being in the moment. But why, then would the jerk of the leash startle me and make me think I wasn't paying attention?
Possibly because I had my eyes closed and it just caught me off guard. But if I truly wanted to be mindful and in the moment, shouldn't I have focus on breathing and just watching Zen do his thing? Isn't there a situation that I was distracted by temporary sensations?
And here the argument becomes circular.
If we take a step back though, we can see what the real culprit in all of this was - my ego needing to think I was being mindful and in the moment, and that I wasn't truly. It was that thought that broke up me simply noticing the world, and the second it was rendered I had judged both the previous experience of hearing, seeing, feeling and smelling and the following experience of finishing up Zen's walk. It was entirely possible for me to transition from enjoying what was around to paying attention to Zen without inserting that obnoxious little bit o' brain sputtering declaring that there was some inherent value in what I'd been doing versus what I should be doing.
It seems that once again we come back to the theme of shutting my brain up, because it's bossy and loud, thinks it knows everything, and generally isn't helpful.
What I will do with my limited knowledge of how things are, is remember the words within the Sattipatthana Sutra: "When you sit, know that you are sitting; when standing, know you are standing. . . ."
Which is actually a lot harder than it sounds.

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