An excerpt from The Mindfulness Code by Donald Altman:
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Dawn has barely broken this morning when I step out of the house with a solitary goal in mind: to get The Oregonian, deposited each morning in an oblong, yellow container that stands next to the mailbox. This morning I am in a hurry, and my mind churns with I-centric thoughts of future time. What should I eat for breakfast? I need to return those calls from yesterday. What handouts do I need to print for that next class? I wonder how many clients I am seeing today. I’m running late, so I’d better hurry....
Halfway down the long driveway, a jolting awareness suddenly breaks into this stream of thoughts. I stop in my tracks. The message is clear and direct: I’m not really here, not really present. It’s true. Like the characters in the television series Lost, I am marooned and separated from what I most long for: a connection to what is true, real, and meaningful. I have drifted off to planning and musing about the next thing. This is a time- and outcome-based approach, one driven, at least to some extent, by the desire to determine and control the future. But where does it get me when I’m walking to pick up the newspaper? Does it really add anything?
And so, instead of walking to get the morning newspaper, I walk simply in order to walk. The effect is rather like being blind one moment and then looking through a telescope that magnifies not only sight but also sound and all other senses. In the blink of an eye, it all changes, and I am no longer alone. Walking to walk, I notice the towering fir trees, the chilly morning air, the brown pinecones on the ground, the warble of a red-headed finch darting across my path, the gurgling of a fountain, my own pulsing body, muscles contracting and loosening in my legs and arms with each small step. All catapult me into the undeniable aliveness of the moment. As I walk simply to walk, each breath fills my lungs with crisp, invigorating air. The demands of time and things not yet done have fallen away, and this is what remains. I’ve suddenly returned to the present, where time is endless and everlasting.
It probably takes me a good ten minutes to get the paper and return to the house (so much for being in a hurry!). But there is a new view in my eyes, my mind, and my heart. For a few moments, I have simply followed the path described by Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book The Sabbath, in which he describes the Sabbath as a sacred time that occurs when one stops being the artist, painter, and creator of the world’s canvas, pausing instead to put the easel aside and simply be in the world. Heschel says, “To observe the Sabbath is to celebrate the coronation of a day in the spiritual wonderland of time.” Each of us has the capability to enter this holy wonderland by fully entering the present. Many paradigm shifts have been written about, but perhaps none is more attainable and nourishing than shifting from endless mind-tripping to doing one thing — walking, eating, sitting, standing, reading — with total presence, ease, and joy.
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Many retail stores now utilize what are known as performance monitoring systems to speed up the checkout process by timing each transaction. Some cashiers who work under such systems are actually afraid to do anything that might slow them down, such as smiling or talking with customers. If you also feel as though you are a slave to time and efficiency, you can always enter the present moment — which is beyond time — by making use of the strategy that follows.
When was the last time you completely dedicated and devoted yourself to the experience you were having with another person? Bring your full attention to deeply notice another person today — the color of his eyes or the gentle curvature of her forehead, the way the hair falls, the unique sound and tone of the voice, the shape of the hand and fingers, and even the deeper need for well-being and happiness. Know that this person is the most important person in your life in this moment, for as Tolstoy writes in his short story “Three Questions”: “The most necessary [individual] is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else.” This practice not only brings you into the present but also honors the uniqueness that exists in each being. Let this meeting with another be the most important thing in your life, just for the few moments or minutes that it lasts. Could you live each moment of your day this way? How beautiful!
About the Author
Donald Altman is the author of The Mindfulness Code and Meal by Meal. He is an adjunct professor at Lewis and Clark College Graduate School, teaches at Portland State University, and conducts mindful living and eating workshops nationally. A member of the Dzogchen Foundation and the Burma Buddhist Monastery Association, he lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit him online at www.mindfulnesscode.com.
Excerpted with permission from The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Unhappiness © 2010 by Donald Altman. Reprinted with permission of New World Library.