Describing mindfulness often goes something like this:
Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention to whatever is happening right now whether we like it or not, whether it’s pleasant, unpleasant, or somewhere in-between. It’s about becoming fully aware of whatever is happening in this moment. When we cultivate this kind of present-moment awareness, we see more clearly, have fewer negative judgments, less reactivity, and can even find some ease within difficult or challenging situations. Mindfulness increases our capacity to manage our lives just as they are, wherever we are, however we are right now.
Which do you think is the operative phrase? See more clearly? Fewer negative judgments? Less reactivity? Does it change from day to day? Lately, I’ve been thinking it’s see more clearly. I know that what I think, what I say and what I do depend on my perceptions. With clarity of vision based on my direct experience, I am much more likely to make good choices and decisions.
Here’s a story I recently heard out of Kentucky, about a bagpiper who regularly plays his pipes at funerals in his community.
One day, the local funeral director asked the bagpiper to play at the graveside of a homeless man who died alone, no family or friends to attend his funeral or burial. The bagpiper was moved by the request and wanted to help. It turned out the service was to be at a pauper’s cemetery in the Kentucky back-country, in a place he’d never been and the directions from the funeral director were a little confusing. Knowing this, the bagpiper left extra time to find the site so he wouldn’t be late. As it turned out, he got completely lost, did not stop to ask for directions, and by the time he arrived he was nearly an hour late.
When he finally got to the cemetery, he could see in the distance that everyone had gone except for several men who were eating their lunch beside the grave. The bagpiper felt terrible. Embarrassed, he rushed over to the men and asked them to let him play some music while they ate and before they continued their work. The men obliged and waited a little impatiently while he played, and played and played.
With tears streaming down his cheeks, he played Amazing Grace from the depths of his soul. The workmen couldn’t help but notice the musician’s grace, the beauty of his music, and they too had tears in their eyes. When the bagpiper finished, they all just stood there, still and silent. After a minute or so, one of the men said, “Oh my, I’ve never seen nothing like that before, and I’ve been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”
Seeing things for what they are, recognizing our assumptions and judgments; it matters what we think because it informs what we do. At least in this story there was no harm done and everyone enjoyed some beautiful music and a very good laugh!