Many years ago, in speaking with one of my Zen teachers about my own teaching of Mindfulness classes, I asked her; “Why, even when people feel and know the benefits of having a regular meditation practice, do they let it fall by the way side?” She answered immediately and with certainty; “Because they think they are going to live forever.” She did not elaborate, so I reflected upon her comment for a very long time… We practice for many reasons, but one thing that is a foundation of the fruits of our efforts, is we get more in touch with the present moment. We don’t spend so much time lost in thought about the past regrets and future plans or worries. We don’t “miss” our lives. We pay more attention to those we love and how we feel and what our values are. We get to “actually” live instead of “virtually”. So we if we let our practice go, we may be thinking, “Oh I’ll start again tomorrow or after this deadline, or my daughter’s wedding.” We are sure there will be a tomorrow, we’re sure we’ll get another chance. If we know deep down that we never really know, we might want to practice and fully live and appreciate our lives now.
This was brought intimately home to me at our annual summer retreat. A woman who has attended regularly for years, someone whom I have become very fond of, approached me in the parking lot and after we hugged, she said; “Beth there is something I want to share with you before the retreat begins.”
“Yes, please tell me.”
Maria continued; “Two weeks after last years retreat, my husband was killed in a car accident. He just went out for errands….I could not have gotten through it without what I have learned with you and Hugh, with out my practice.”
“Oh Maria, I am so sorry….
“People have asked me how I have been getting through it with some measure of balance…and I try to tell them about my mindfulness practice.”
It was a heartbreaking and awakening way to start the retreat. I felt again that what we are doing or rather “intentionally- non-doing”(meditation, yoga, and mindfulness of everyday activities) really matters. I need reminding too. It can become rote.
Next I ran into another regular attendee, a woman who had become friends with Maria over the years. I noticed she had a bandage on her face. “Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. My doctor didn’t recommend that I come so soon after surgery, but I wouldn’t miss this for the world. And I’ll be here in January.”
Both Lucy and Maria were there to teach me, to wake me up to the reality of not knowing,
and these brave committed women gave me back a sense of purpose about my own practice.
One thing I love about meditation practice is –it is endlessly forgiving, we can start again, and begin anew, simply by paying attention to our very next breath. Because we never really really know what is coming.