For the last fifteen years of my life I have been a spiritual wanderer. In my early twenties I left the fundamentalist Christian belief I was raised with and journeyed into the unknown. At times I felt lost and looked for belief structures to grab onto, but eventually found that my greatest growth has come in allowing there to be mystery, to let life and love offer me what it does without strict dogma shaping my outlook. Despite what I was taught as a child, I have found spiritual meaning even without knowing what I believe.
One of the spiritual practices I have grown the most from is the practice of mindfulness. In my childhood church, we were told that meditation opened the mind to demonic influences and that one must always have their mind active with scripture or prayer, including praying in tongues. This busybody way of being rarely allows for the rest and reflection I have found to be so meaningful.
Mantras I have adopted in my everyday life that have contributed to mindfulness have included: “Feel all the feelings,” “Be here now,” and a simple “I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out.” These mantras, and the practice of being present, have created beautiful moments from acts as simple as washing the dishes or taking a walk. They have also made me a more present and loving parent and friend. Most of all this practice has birthed in me a gratitude for exactly what is happening now, which has contributed to a deep contentment and joy that infuses my life even on hard or stressful days.
My husband and I have been going through a painful time in our marriage and we’re talking about and considering a separation. I’ve realized in the last couple months, and especially the last few weeks of acute pain, that while the practice of mindfulness does make you feel joy and happiness in a deeper way, it also can cause you to feel the pain in a deeper way. If you are open, you are simply open to it all. You are present in the joy and you are present in the pain. And I’m learning to be grateful for this too.
Last week my husband asked if we would all like to go to the river. We drove an hour away to a beautiful quiet river with green banks and wildflowers. He fly-fished while the kids took turns fishing with a spin rod, playing in the tall grass and finding caterpillars. I did some writing but mostly sat listening to the water’s voice and watching my children.
I felt tempted to decide what this day “meant.” Did it mean we would stay together? Was it wrong to have this healthy family day if we were headed for divorce? I have allowed myself to simply be and to practice being present in the moment so often, but I was unsure if I could move into that space while suffering from the heaviness of our situation and decisions to be made.
I felt a pressure to see the implications of such a day. And then I realized that all those normal, somewhat mundane days of practicing mindfulness had been preparation for a moment such as this. I opened the fingers of my mind, unclenched my mental fists and let go of everything this day might “mean.” I simply allowed a day that had nothing to do with the past and especially nothing to do with the future. I learned that day what mindfulness can mean in the middle of pain and uncertainty.
What meant to me that day was feeling the fuzz of a caterpillar my daughter placed in my hands. It meant breathing in the smell of the tree I leaned my back on and of my wet dog lying at my feet. It meant watching my children’s heads bob just above tall clover and my husband work with a large trout on the end of his fly line and eventually holding it in his hand. It meant laughter when my oldest son stripped naked and jumped into the freezing water. It meant the brush of my fingers against the tops of grass as high as my waist as we walked back toward the van. And it meant gratitude for the things happening each moment while still allowing the sadness and heaviness of my greater life to reside right alongside the joy.
This is the gift of mindfulness. This is why it’s a practice worth our time. This is how we live among beauty and grief and view them both with eyes wide open. This is how we see it all as sacred.