The message was right there in front of me, floating above the stream of hot air that blew through my fingers.
Feel the power…
I was walking up 69th Street last week when a total stranger suddenly crowded into my space.
“Hey, how you doin’?” he said.
I was momentarily surprised, but then I looked closer and saw that this guy wasn’t a stranger at all.
He was one of my buddies from the gym. I see him every flipping week.
He’s a big, beefy fellow with a crew cut and thick glasses, someone who most definitely sticks out in a crowd. Yet I had no idea who he was until he was right on top of me.
“Hey, how’s it going?” I said a bit embarrassed. “Sorry I didn’t recognize you.”
“You were lost in thought,” he said, gently dismissing my concern.
We chatted for a few minutes and then I told him to have a nice day.
“You made it better,” he said, and went on his way.
That was a very nice thing to say and I made a note to pass his kindness along.
But I was still upset at being so out touch that I hadn’t recognized this man as he walked down the block in broad daylight.
I was lost, all right, but it wasn’t anything like thought. I was wallowing in a fog of daydreams, confabulation, and just plain fantasy that had taken me far, far away from the real world.
And it’s happened two more times since then, with both encounters occurring at my local supermarket.
The first time I was walking through the dairy section when a guy stepped up to me.
“Hello, sir,” he said.
This man turned out to be a friend of mine whom I haven’t seen in a while, as he had gotten married and recently became a father.
Once again, I had completely blitzed out from the known universe.
Friend or Foe?
The last—and most embarrassing—incident happened a short time later in the same store—what the hell is it about Key Food anyway?—only this time I was in the fruit and vegetables section.
I was making my way toward a pile of apples when a woman inadvertently stepped in from of me. But I felt like playing the victim.
Oh, great, I internally harrumphed, she’s gotta come over here at the same exact time I do.
I did a little two-step around her and began helping myself to the apples.
And that’s when this lady looked right at me.
“Oh, hi!” she said. “We were in the meditation class together.”
I stopped and looked—really looked this time and saw that, yes, we had indeed been in the meditation class together.
That was the eight-week class at the Interdependence Project that was designed to make us more mindful, more present. And I had somehow managed to walk right by this woman without seeing her.
I could make the excuse that I didn’t recognize these people because they were in a different place than I’m normally accustomed to seeing them.
But that’s all it is—an excuse. They had all somehow managed to see me in these unusual surroundings.
But mindfulness is a lifelong practice.
The author Peter Matthiessen, who died in April, was a Zen priest, and he once said that “if you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well.”
I haven’t reached the five-minute mark yet. I’m not even close, to be honest.
But I’ve had these little breakthrough moments when I can see the Promised Land, when I am standing squarely in the present moment, not wallowing in the past or worrying about the future.
The most dramatic moment occurred in my gym a few weeks back. I was washing my hands while my mind pinballed all around my head, getting angry over one thing and fretting over another. It was complete chaos up there in my skull.
As I felt the blast of hot air hit my hands, I told myself to get mindful on the double. And when I looked down I saw three words written across the drier that summed up the whole mindful experience for me.
Feel the power.
Yes, exactly. Feel the power of being in the moment, of breaking free of all the junk that clogs your mind.
Feel the power of finding yourself after being lost in thought.