I didn’t always believe in things like mindfulness and mantras. In fact even now, in weaker moments, I have to resist the cynic in me that thinks it’s all bullshit.
My brother had arranged for me to meet with Thomas Water a well-respected mindfulness facilitator while I was in New York. Maybe he had a premonition that I would need one since the job interview didn’t go as well as I hoped. I went there several hours after my job interview with Security Concepts.
Mr. Wallace, the interviewer with Security Concepts, informed me that forty people had applied for the position and that ten of them, including myself, were offered interviews. The odds were not good especially because I felt friction between the interviewer and me. He was overdressed and I was intimidated by his bright red tie. It seemed to me the psychological equivalent of a stop sign. I would have much preferred green.. He was seated in a huge leather chair behind a desk so wide that I felt like I almost was in another room. I had no clue if he liked me or thought I was qualified. I couldn’t wait to get out of that stuffy office. So, needless to say, I was hoping to shed some of the stress and tension at the mindfulness session. If that didn’t work my next option was a drink but a martini was out of the question with the prices in Manhattan. I had no intention of calling Lorraine and even if I did have a drink with her she would not be paying. Call me stupid, call me old school, whatever, that just seemed so awkward.
I took out my cell phone texted Bernie and opened google maps for directions to Thomas Waters apartment.
Setting my inner skeptic aside or at least trying, I now find myself following my guides directions and sitting upright with my eyes closed and my feet flat on the ground paying attention to my breath flowing in and flowing out. Thomas Water had a soft, soothing voice. Listening to his instructions was so very easy, following them was a little more challenging. Allowing thoughts to pass like leaves falling gently from a tree to the ground. Not trying to avoid them but allowing them to pass without paying particular attention to any single one. Letting them fall as my attention more deeply immerses itself into the present moment and the flowing of my breath, deeply and slowly in and then out.
It is not as easy as it sounds especially with the avalanche of leaves screaming for my attention. The disturbing morning news, the cold interview, last nights petty argument, tomorrows bills to be paid, each spinning vibrantly competing for dominance on its graceful flutter past my attention span.
Are all people as utterly distracted as me? Or it part of the human condition or is it just a malady of some? I don’t remember being this distracted when I was younger. Many people appear to be so calm and focused. I want to be like that! When my brain never stops it is mentally and physically exhausting.
So I begin to focus on my breathing again, checking in with the alignment of my spine and trying again to remember my mantra. Shit! How easily I am distracted!
I don’t know exactly when I became so cynical but I guess it was an easy turn to make for a dead-end city kid. The streets were as mean as they could be and if you were out on them long enough they could swallow you up. If you were vulnerable or god forbid innocent, it was best if you stayed home with mom. Not that you couldn’t find love and friendship or kindness and tenderness out there. It was there too, just sometimes with a kiss on your lips and a knife in your back. Honestly, I think, compared to what is happening on the streets in American cities right now we were angels. Maybe it is simply a matter of scale. More people, more opportunity, easy access to guns, more crime, kids will be kids.
I had it easier than many kids in my neighborhood. I had two parents at home one of whom had a steady, if paltry, income. They were mostly at home although for my dad home extended to the Irish taproom on the corner. Still, I knew where to find him if absolutely needed.
My family wasn’t very religious but I was sent to Catholic school all the same. Both of my parents went to Catholic school and probably their parents too, though I’m not certain of that. Even though no one could actually afford the small tuition, it was just something everyone did in South Philly at the time. It seemed like everyone was a Catholic in the neighborhood. The school went broke educating the bunch of us. Nobody paid full tuition even though it was less than a hundred dollars a year per student. It was good to be Catholic you could commit larceny Sunday through Friday, confess it on Saturday and walk away with a soul as pure white as a glass of milk.
I lost my faith when my father died, the summer after 6th grade. I stopped believing in god because he wouldn’t bring my dad back to life. So stupid of me, I know, but that is pretty much how it happened. I guess I didn’t really expect my dad to rise up out of the coffin but something important started to crumble down when he didn’t. I prayed and begged god to bring him back. He didn’t. I lost the sense of life having purpose and meaning. I sensed the total randomness of death and of life although at that age I could never put it into words. The orderliness and fairness that I believed in escaped like air from a burst balloon.
It was like a switch was flipped. One day I was a devout god fearing catholic and the next day I didn’t believe in god. I stopped paying attention to the priests and nuns completely. A kind priest tried to comfort me by saying that the heavenly father called my dad back home to heaven but I knew the cigarettes and alcohol sent him to an early grave and if there was a god he/she probably didn’t even know or care if dad was dead or alive. It was a simple math problem for me. There are just too many humans for a heavenly being to keep track of. Do the math!
I’m not a hard-core atheist anymore. More of a look at the wonder of the universe agnostic. The planet, the people, so much on earth is so utterly beautiful and perfect, so flawless for random big bangness. Or is it? I mean I know it happened but why? What put it into motion out of nothingness?
Situational evolution, survival of the fittest are powerful undeniable forces. Once life is created even a god cannot control the laws of nature. Laws are laws, especially if they had divine origins. There is always the simple but nagging question…what came first the chicken or the egg?
Don’t let anyone tell you they know the answer to the truly unanswerable questions. Who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Why? There are many that will tell you about this or that god but they don’t know. We are all in the same boat. I’m a big fan of science but even that doesn’t explain everything, at least not yet.
A little mystery is good! I kind of subscribe to the “we are all connected” theory. Sometimes I think about Bernadette and she calls me. Of course you may be thinking that it is pure co-incidence, and it may be. It happens so often. On occasion she knows what I am thinking or I know what she is thinking. I guess since we’ve been together for so long we are so very attuned to each other that this type of connection is not only natural but common and predictable. Still, today I thought of someone from work, someone I barely know, and moments later the phone rang. I got a chill when I heard his voice.
Sometimes when I held one of my children in my arms and peered into their beautiful innocent eyes I felt such a sense of wonder and such a magnetic pull. I felt something much bigger than me, something that I understood completely on one level and not at all on another one. I felt like I was gazing into their untarnished and unfiltered soul. It was a connection so deep and so real that it felt like a religious experience. I felt like the little boy who at one time believed wholeheartedly in god. When I was holding our baby in our humble little home, maybe sitting with Bernadette while she was reading a book or catching up on her work, I felt a completeness that I had never known in my life. I began to feel that life had meaning and purpose again.
Still, knowing that these feelings can be explained away by understanding our human instincts and the desire to advance our species. My cynicism began to soften dramatically. To the point that I began to think maybe there is a higher power, just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Should I deny rocket science just because my little brain doesn’t understand it?
That would be just as silly as not believing in god for not waking my father from eternal rest. I don’t care. How do we explain falling in love, a preference for strawberry ice cream over vanilla or chocolate. For that matter how do we explain feelings, premonitions, human beings need for music and art?
You can probably see why I might need a mantra to settle my racing mind. I tried to put on a good show for the zen master, but he saw right through it. He was very warm and understanding and I liked him a lot. Pity he lived in New York, he told me he visited Philly frequently and would be happy to meet me there to continue our work.
All I was trying to do was anchor my attention to my breath. Next time maybe I’ll buy a newspaper or a magazine instead of burdening you with my trivialities. That’s what I said in my mind to Bernadette as I imagined her reading my thoughts. Truth is, I was dreading telling her about the interview. She would be happy I meet with the mindfulness teacher.
Breathe. Breathe and breathe again.