July 15, 2011

Mindfulness, over a pot of vegetable soup

Soup-full meditations

Carrots, celery, corn, potatoes, pumpkin, string beans, onions, garlic and scallions gathered, I began the preparation of a delectable pot of soup during that final hour just before dawn this morning.

To accompany me, I listened to Pema Chödrön’s DVD entitled Getting Unstuck. Even though I was listening to it for the umpteenth time, still, it felt like the first. After each session, I seem to come away with another piece of the spiritual puzzle that fits perfectly into my jigsaw of the moment.

A light, cheerful and playful voice with a quirky sense of humor is not what I’d anticipated to hear that first time I played it. Today was the perfect one to invite her to keep me company while I cooked. Throughout the night it had stormed – Central African rain storms are incredible – raindrops the size of snowballs, howling winds, baritone roaring thunder and electric flashes of lightening that ignite the blackness of the night.

Learning to stay, with whatever is present in any given moment is the lesson she imparts.  At one point she shares something I’ve often thought about as I travel around the world in airplanes – the extent to which we as humans are functioning on automatic pilot. Frightening!

“Imagine” she says, “most of those people, who fly past us on the freeway at 85 MPH, they’re lost in thought and actually not paying attention!” A session taped live, the listener hears the audience in the background laugh in nervous agreement [or confession].

Suddenly, the seemingly mindless activity of preparing my day’s sustenance takes on a sacred new meaning. As I slice the onions, I become aware of the tears inflicted. Shaped like a Bartlett pear, as I split the pumpkin apart, I notice how young and fresh it is, its butternut color and a few white seeds form its heart center. Chopping the celery, I inhale its distinct aroma.

With all the ingredients washed, peeled and ready to go, I place a deep earthenware cauldron on the stove. Lighting the fire beneath it, I ponder the hands (or machine) that have shaped this vessel and ask my inner self, “what were his/her thoughts while creating this pot [most likely in some other part of the world] that had now made its way here before me?”

At some point, she [Pema] invites the listener to join her for a short meditation series. Practicing for over thirty years, she shares her early experiences of meditation – the cues to:

  1. Get comfortable
  2. Relax
  3. Breathe deeply
  4. Focus on the breath

For anyone who has ever attempted meditation, if it were this simple, our whole world would be Zenned out! In this particular meditation, one is invited to listen to the sound of the gong, all the way through to the final echo.

When we do this – listen to each and every sound vibration of the gong – rather than escaping into meditation, we become fully present and engaged in the moment; i.e., we learn how to stay. Generally speaking, we are usually drawn to meditate for one of two reasons; perhaps both separate sides of the same coin – either to concentrate or to distract ourselves from our ever persistent, nagging ruminations.

With all of Mother Nature’s ingredients bubbling away on the stove, and my soup-full meditations complete, I head for the shower feeling awake, alive and ready to begin the day.

As lunchtime approaches, quietly I depart the office to return home where wholesome goodness waits.

Maintaining my mindfulness continuum, I ladle spoon-fulls of this apricot colored brew into my favorite uneven shaped ceramic white bowl.  Energizing it with my hands before blessing my body with it, I am awash with gratitude for it and for all sentient beings that were a part of the process where I can now sit and savor this meal, in a country where hunger is such a familiar state that to feel full must be uncomfortable.

Lunchtime ends and it is time to return to work.

As I turn the key in the ignition the radio, permanently set on my favorite station here, BBC Africa, the correspondent is discussing the merits of mindfulness and its effects on stress with a professor from Oxford University.

He [professor] describes mindfulness as being conscious in the present moment without judgment or interpretation.  The correspondent asks, “how does one attain mindfulness, for example late at night when you’re ruminating about all that you haven’t done throughout the day and what lies ahead for the next day?  You’re caught in a vicious circle of being too exhausted to sleep yet you also know that if you don’t fall asleep soon that you’ll be an even worse wreck tomorrow!”

With Oxford eloquence the professor advises:

  1. Get comfortable
  2. Relax
  3. Breathe deeply
  4. Focus on the breath

The Universe [and Pema Chödrön] certainly has a sense of humor I say out loud to no one in particular and chuckle to myself while paying full attention to the bicycles, cars and pedestrians that wander around me with no real system of order or for that matter, mindfulness.


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