Here’s a kind of statement from participants in my mindfulness classes that always makes my heart go out to them:
“I did ‘X.’ I wasn’t mindful.”
This is spoken with self-recrimination, as though the person somehow failed the mindfulness test. I’d like to say, for the record, that there is no test, since mindfulness ≠ always doing things perfectly. There is instead a different possibility, in such a moment of recognition, when seeing what was less than optimal in a past moment.
Consider a recent example I can offer. I was leaving for work, headed out the door and toward the car, juggling one too many items in an attempt to save myself a second trip through the NH cold. I carried the work bag in one hand, filled with lesson plans, my best headphones, spare whiteboard markers, and extra cold weather gear for walking. There was the laptop bag in the other hand. I had my purse slung over my shoulder, and a plastic container filled with the good salad I had made myself for lunch. Approaching the car, I strategized how to open the door and deposit all of this safely. In that moment, my best option seemed to be to put most of the items down, steady the salad on top of the car, open the door and then transfer it all inside.
I bet you can guess where this is going. Roughly two miles later, well onto the interstate highway, I remembered the salad.
Here’s what came to me, in that moment. There was a visual available, a view into the past, right along with the real and present sense of the highway before me. In my mind’s eye, I saw a flying salad which came with a simultaneous bit of narrative thought: “Oh, no! my salad!” Next came a little pang of regret for having lost the salad. Then I had a quick view into the future: there are salads available where I’m going, there is money in my pocket, and thus lunch will be available to me. Then came a chuckle, about the image of the flying salad, the little drama of loss that had ensued, and how very common, how human it is to perch a container on the car roof and then drive away. All of this I was aware of, in the unfolding of a brief series of moments.
In the ensuing days, whenever I walked the long street I drive on each morning, I’ve looked around for that container. Not seeing it, I hoped someone had found it and perhaps recycled the container. Maybe they even enjoyed the salad?!
A few weeks back, Ruth Folchman wrote about a cherished gift, the losing it and the letting go. Sometimes, it is about poignant waves of emotion we might experience in loss and remembering.
And sometimes, it might be just the flash of a flying salad. Either way, it’s possible to be aware. Given this awareness that includes it all, can you go ahead and give yourself an A+ on the mindfulness test?