I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Nancy Agneberg's reflection Mindful Moments. Sometimes.
I would have preferred to sleep a bit later this Sunday morning, but I am one of the presenters at the Adult Forum between services at our church, and we will attend the early service first. I have prepared my brief talk, a quick three-minute one, and am not nervous, but nonetheless, that is on my mind as I head to the lower level of our house to take a shower. I walk through our teeny-tiny kitchen and down the stairs. I take my shower and dress and, walking through the teeny-tiny kitchen again, I proceed to the first floor bathroom where I put on my make-up.
Great, I think, when I am ready for the day, I have time for a bowl of cereal before we need to leave for church. It is then, only then, I notice something new in the kitchen, which I have walked through twice already this morning. It is Valentine's Day and on the window sill over the sink are four small red pots filled with fluffy, fresh herbs, a present from my forever Valentine husband. How could I have missed them?
Mindful? Not so much.
The next day I get in the car to drive to a friend's apartment. We are meeting to plan a talk on mindfulness, of all things, which we have been asked to give at church. I drive the familiar route along the Mississippi River dividing St Paul, Minnesota, where I live, from Minneapolis. I cross the river on the Ford Parkway Bridge and note how there seem to be a few small areas of open water on this bright winter day. I look for the soaring of a bald eagle, who frequents this area. No sign of him today, but just recalling other times when I have spotted him swooping close to the water is a gift of spirit. I make the turn to drive through Minnehaha Park, a route I always take to visit my elderly father in a nearby suburb. I congratulate myself for making such a mindful decision, choosing a longer route, but a less-traveled one, lined with gracious old homes and trails for walking and biking along the winding creek. Yes, a mindful decision, until I realize today my destination is not my father's apartment, but Ruth's apartment. I should have taken a left in the park, instead of a right, and now I will be late for our appointment.
I laugh at myself and remember St Benedict's kind, true, and apt words, “Always, we begin again.” I wasn't mindful. I wasn't present to the moment at hand, but I have yet another chance to begin again and to practice awareness. To wake up and be mindful. I know all to well that mindfulness is not something I can achieve. I can't cross it off my bucket or life list and announce, “Got it! I am now mindful.”
Some days I remember to be more attentive to the rhythm of the day, to my own breath and the quickening of my heart. Some days I remember to pause for a breath break at the end of one task before starting another. Some days I remember to give thanks before sitting at my desk to write a new post for my blog and work on a chapter for a much longer project. Some days I realize what I most need to do is choose a pretty note card from my stash and write to a friend who has had surgery recently or another friend, who needs to know someone is thinking of her right here, right now.
Some days I am more mindful, but over time I have learned being mindful is more possible on the days I have started my day with an “on-cushion” practice. On-cushion practice refers to Buddhist formal meditation practices, but in my case it means devoting an hour or more to studying a sacred book, writing in my journal, praying and sitting in silence for twenty minutes or more, noticing my breath and the thoughts interrupting the stillness. Rev. Jane Vennard in her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive, Spiritual Practices to Nurture Your Soul says “the purpose of meditation practice is to take what is learned on cushion into everyday life.” Off-cushion.
Off-cushion I give thanks for the morning light as I raise the living and dining room blinds. Off-cushion I make the bed and give thanks for a good night's rest. Off-cushion I notice signs of changes in the seasons as I walk our neighborhood. Off-cushion I watch young children frolic as they head to school, and I pray our children and grandchildren have a good day. I attempt to move through the day open to off-cushion opportunities and have learned the more I attend to them the more there are to discover. My heart yearns towards such fullness.
Yes, I am mindful – until the next mindless moment, but even that mindless moment offers a gift. Now every time I walk into our kitchen, I smile at the cheery green herbs in their red pots, and I think about the considerate, loving nature of my Valentine. And the next time I drive the familiar route along the river and through the park, I suspect I will pay more attention to where I am going and what I am seeing. That is my prayer."
Nancy L. Agneberg is a spiritual director whose joy is helping others discover the richness of contemplative practices. After 20 years of living in other states, she and her husband have happily returned "home" to Minnesota. Currently, Nancy is writing a spiritual memoir, as well as frequent posts on her blog, Clearing the Space, One Woman's Journey.