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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thoughts on Mindfulness: Do It This Way Sometimes

Mindfulness is a topic that most people are familiar with by now, although I know for a fact that few truly practice it. To do that it would mean that you spend all your waking moments being mindful ... a bit as it is explained in this rather marvelous conversation between Oprah & Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who literally brought mindfulness to the west via Jon Kabat-Zinn and later founded a retreat center in France called Plum Village. Listen particularly to the short section on "compassionate listening"

However, what I wanted to mention today is a perhaps simplistic way of entering mindfulness, if you are a newcomer. There are so many ways. But this one is truly simple. I've done it several mornings just out of curiosity, and was rather pleased with the result.

Out walking (and I suggest you walk where there are not throngs of people nor endless raucous traffic), simply attempt to notice how many different sounds you can tangle out of whatever it is that your ears perceive. Normally we pay little attention unless it's a startling or very loud noise, because we're either lost in thought, or talking, or listening to something on our earbuds.

So in a 15 minute section of my walk, I found yesterday that I was able to differentiate 20 different sounds, yet today that number was almost triple at 56. Was I more present? More mindful? More attuned to my surroundings? It was the same walk at more or less the same time.

I should add that car noise only counted as one, although I distinguished between cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, etc. people talking also only as one, although I distinguished between adults and children or babies, or laughter. Birds I counted separately: there were seagulls, parakeets, sparrows, and several others that had another kind of song, but I don't know what they were. I heard a leaf dropping to the ground, I heard the marvelously peace-inducing sound of insects, I heard lawnmowers (only counted once), buzz saws, and palm frond cutting equipment shaving off the dried ones from the top. I heard the rustle of the wind through palm fronds, and the sighing of the wind through eucalyptus leaves. I heard water ejecting noisily from a hose, and I heard water dancing joyfully in a decorative fountain, and I heard water running gustily from a public tap to satiate a thirsty dog. I heard a dog's claws on the pavement, another dog's excited breathing as he strained at his leash to catch up with yet another dog, the gentle, and to me - surprising - singing of two elderly ladies out for a stroll, the heavy breathing of a jogger, and the slap of a mother's sandals as she led her small toddler to the beach. I heard the same toddler laugh that magnificent laughter of children, and I heard stacked chairs being placed on the pavement outside a beach restaurant in readiness for early morning coffee drinkers. I heard a chubby baby babble in delight at the faces his grandfather was making, and I heard music (although I only counted it once), and I heard a helicopter in the distance over the water, and a small motorboat going out to sea.

It was a marvelous sensation to be able to distinguish so many sounds and furthermore to find ever more, the more I remained mindful.

Try it some day. Do only this. Don't be distracted by anything at all, other than disentangling those myriad sounds that are out there. This might just be your way of training yourself to become mindful.


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