Dear Members and Friends,
I was not trained as a poet. I’ve never taken poetry lessons. I’ve never had workshops. Nobody taught me anything, really much. But I think that we’re beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem.
-Lucille Clifton, poet, 20th century
Today we are bombarded with images, words, videos, photos, experiences, adventures, and so much more. We have mini-computers we carry around in the palm of our hands more powerful than the first desk top personal computers of 30 years ago. Yet with all these possibilities before you, I wonder, do you really live your life fully and abundantly?
To answer, consider these questions: When you’re taking a shower, do you actually smell your body wash? Do you taste the flavors and textures of your lunch? Do you look at the lines on your lover’s skin? Do you pay attention to what’s outside your window, to the sky at night, to the rows of palm trees on your commute?
Unless we’re in a new place or experiencing something we perceive as extraordinary, we breeze right by. We go on with our days, eyes on our to-do lists, asleep to the – ordinary – splendor around us.
The spiritual practice of mindfulness is designed to help us be more present in each moment and more fully attend to what is happening, what you are working on, to the person you are listening to, the surroundings you are moving through. As straightforward as the word appears, many of us wonder just what this practice entails. Perhaps this story of how one spiritual teacher explained the concept to a class of 8th grade students might help.
Frank Ostaseski, a Buddhist teacher who has dedicated his life to service and is an international lecturer, nevertheless was greatly challenged when asked to teach meditation at his daughter’s Catholic school. In the first class of the day, an 8th grade religion class, he offered his fairly tradition meditation instruction. It went over like a lead balloon. He realized he needed a different presentation if it wasn’t going to be an extremely long day!
With the next class he began with these words: “Today, I would like to teach you how to kiss really well.” That got their attention! He continued: “When you’re kissing somebody you want to be there for the experience. You don’t want the other person looking out the window. You don’t want to be checking your phone for texts. A kiss is an intimate act. At its best, it engages all of your senses. You want to be able to see, hear, smell, taste and touch in ways that are vivid, fresh and alive. Ideally you want to feel your heart fully and observe your mind with curiosity. It’s unlikely you will be able to open to these experiences if you haven’t cultivated the habit of attention. We have to learn to kiss the moment.”
Mindfulness is a capacity of mind to collect, gather and attend to a given object, moment, or experience. One way to cultivate that capacity is to pay attention to your life the way a poet does – with curiosity. Get curious about everything and ask yourself questions. All kinds of questions. When I wake up, what do I see? What do I hear? What am I feeling? If my heart could talk, what would it say? What kinds of images appear in my dreams? How does my spouse drink his/her coffee? What are the people on the train chatting about?
Training ourselves to intently look and listen immerses us more fully in our lives. As Henry Miller beautifully said, The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. And, thankfully, all of us have this ability. All we need to do is open our eyes.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida