Spiritual Band-Aids and Drive-By Mindfullness

Wednesday was a road trip that almost didn’t happen.  Kristen had proposed it–a mid-week trip to see Sherman Alexie at Virginia Tech.  But as we become more comfortably ensconced in middle age, we all find that our web of responsibilities–jobs and families and sleep–tend to make the road trip much less frequent that it was in our wilder youth.

But of all those who received the offer, three of us pushed through the entanglements and hit the road about 1:00.  Grown-up road trip.  Going to see an author speak.  We small talked about this and that.

“I’m doing the 100 days of gratitude on Facebook,” said Nicole.  This trip would be her Day 4.

“That’s too much pressure for me,” replied Kristen.

Soon 81 climbed the mountain, and Nicole caught her first sight of an endless fall mountain vista: reds, oranges, barns, pumpkin patches, infinite sky–all setting her photographer’s heart aflutter.  The trip flowed as a beautiful stream of day: jokes at the store, wonderful dinner, the surprise of beautiful art, and…or course…Alexie’s storytelling.  So much to be thankful for, most worthy of the Day 4 post.  Soon, we were back on the road.  And miles to go before we sleep.  And miles to go before we sleep.

Philip Taffe's Asuka Passage, on display at VT's Center for the Arts.

Philip Taffe’s Asuka Passage, on display at VT’s Center for the Arts.

By Saturday, I was starting to shake off the effects of that night of small sleep.  Rain sat on the house.  Nicole had met a friend at Costco, so the soft morning was mine.  I eventually found my way to my quiet mat, a serene start to a sleepy Saturday.

Soon, I was out the door to handle the tasks of the day.  Stop 2–the Teeter–was a zoo.  A chaotic frenzy of kids and carts, people testing eggs and thumping melons.  Everyone, it seemed, had decided Saturday morning was the time for groceries.

I stood three-deep in the check-out line and avoided the angst of existence by checking the Facebook feed on my phone.  Nicole had posted Day 7: a morning with a good friend.  I liked and scrolled.  The distraction of Facebook used, I turned to the magazines for amusement, where Oprah promised 10 easy one-minute meditations to make the holidays less stressful.  Ten easy meditations?  How could I resist?  I flipped through the perfume and celebrity ideas and found such zingers as imagining your cranky uncle as a lovable infant and calming oneself in a Christmas party by zoning out to the sounds of the season.  I laughed a smug and self-righteous chuckle, still feeling radiant from my deep time on the mat, thanked the check-out girl, and headed home.

Back at the house, the new REI catalogue arrived, prompting me to “do my first downward dog” of the morning in their brand new Yoga gear.  Mindfulness, meditation, yoga–they’ve all become popular enough to be monetized, repackaged, and sold back to us in various forms.   Buy your way into effortless nirvana, it seems.

I have to check myself, sometimes, the part of me that gets snarky at all this.  In knowing the deep practice I found this morning, REI ads and quick-quipped Oprah meditation tips seem like poor shadows of some “true form” of mindfulness.  Even social media posts seem to be somehow but a quick-patch until we get back in the game of the topsy-turvy world.  The part of me that seeks to engage the deep, unifying spiritual facet of existence lays groundwork to be present and at peace, but it can also make me snort at an REI ad that simply uses the language without getting the meaning.

But like I said, I have to check myself, and was reminded of that this morning.  An honest expression of gratitude is an honest expression of gratitude, whether it’s a face-to-face thank you, a social media post, or–God-forbid–a tortured Sunday morning blog post on the subject.  A moment in mindful thought is a moment of mindful thought, regardless if this is the first our thousandth such moment this day.  It is only this moment.  And even if Oprah is only putting quick meditations on the cover to sell copy, imagining those who vex us as lovable children, or soaking in the beauty of a moment is good and fun practice, regardless of its source.  Worrying about the source or form of this idea, it seems, breeds the same dogmatism that lets established churches look down on iconoclasts as stake-worthy heretics.  Seeing the number of times I’ve been labeled the heretic by others, I should probably seek to curb the urge to label others as heretics.

The road trip was marvelous.  Nicole slept most of the way back, and Kristen and I kept each other awake with banter and snacks.  I hadn’t been on such a random mid-week trip in so long, and I’m not sure when I’ll do it again.  But doing it on that day, stepping out of the normal web of interactions and diving into such a joyous moment of that long evening, left me tired, running on fumes but filled with happiness.  For that moment, even if that moment is not a practice, I am eternally and humbly grateful.

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