I often speak about the importance of mindfulness, that is, being in the present moment, and last week I experienced a good example of it.
I was beginning my meditation practice at around 6:00 pm. I sat facing out onto the veranda at the studio. As I prepared to do zazen I happily noticed that the sun would be setting during my meditation time, and I would have a chance to really enjoy the changing colors of the clouds. I was relaxed and comfortable, it was going to be a great sit.
As you may know we have a small reed fence on the studio veranda, and as I sat with it in front of me I noticed that the strips that hold it to the rail really needed to be clipped. You could see the ends of them hanging out over the balcony and it just didn't look well put together. The only problem was that it would be really hard to reach them. Once before I tried standing on a footstool and leaning over the rail but it felt pretty dangerous with half my body hanging out over the edge. The other option would be to climb over the fence and stand on the little outside ledge, that way it would be easy to clip the strips, but I would have to keep one hand on the rail at all times. Perhaps I could tie myself to it in case I lost my grip?
That reminded me of a similiar situation when I was in boarding school in North Carolina. My freshman year I lived on the second floor next to my friend John, and during study hall we would open our windows and talk to pass the time. One day John had locked himself out of his room. I don't remember why now, but it was really important that he get back in there quickly. Fortunately, he had left his window open, and I proposed that I just hop out on to the ledge of my window, shimmy over to his window, jump into his room and open the door from the inside. We decided this was a good plan. Sure, it would have been a 20 foot fall, but the infirmary awning would catch most of my weight and I wouldn't break any bones (probably).
So, I clambered out onto the ledge, and just as I was about to make the tricky transition to John's ledge, I hear "Mr. Reynolds, get off of there this instant!" It was the headmaster. Of all the times in the day, he had chosen that instant to take his poodle for a walk around the back of the dorms where no one ever goes. "Stay in your room, I want to have a serious discussion with you! There will be consequences for this!"
Meanwhile, John was freaking out. He had never been in trouble in his life. He said he was going to get kicked out of school for "aiding and abetting." He actually used those words, and he was rolling around on the floor holding his stomach because he was so nervous.
Anyway, we got in a little trouble, but nothing too serious. And now we all laugh about this story. I was sitting there with a big grin on my face just thinking about it.
Oh, right... sitting. Suddenly I snapped back into the present. The room was the same, the fence needed to be clipped, and, it was almost dark outside. Almost dark! I had missed the sunset entirely. In one way I remembered seeing its golds and reds and purples, but instead of looking at it with mindfullness I had played this old memory over it.
My meditation was a perfect example of the two directions our minds spin out into. One was the future, where I made all those plans to clip the strips off. The other, the past, a home movie we watch over and over and somehow never get tired of. How easy it is to slip into these two imaginary places. All it took for me was looking at a ledge!
Now maybe you think what's the big deal? Plans are exciting to make, and memories, especially good ones like the one I had, are pleasant. The problem is not in the plans or memories, it's in what you miss while you are daydreaming. That sunset will never be repeated, and I missed my one shot at really appreciating it. Maybe one sunset is not such a major loss, but think of all the beautiful sights and wonderful people we miss everyday of our lives when we live without mindfulness.
Something for everyone to think about!