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10-26-09 - A really cheap and effective mindfulness program
The other day I was taken to the train station at Bad Säckingen, Germany, on the way to Freiberg to get some dental work done and I was so pissed off because I'd forgotten to bring the new rail card I'd just gotten in the mail. I'd stupidly not immediately put it in my wallet but had left it on my desk with the letter that came with it intending to ask my friend, retired judge and amateur clown Peter Dreyer (whom Baker Roshi calls Herr Dreyer), some questions about it. Up to now I'd had to use the paper document I'd received when buying it. It's a 25% discount for four months for 25 Euro and it paid for itself with the first purchase which was a round trip to Berlin. But now I could use the card but I didn't have the card or the paper version. I paid 24 Euro for that ticket when I could have paid 18. Six Euro down the tracks. That's $8.40 to a lot of people that I know. I don't have a lot of Euro either so it's not just the principle or is that principal?
I'd gone through a checklist of things to bring on this one day jaunt - the six Ps I use at home before getting into a car: pen, paper (for writing down important thoughts), peepers (glasses), purse (wallet), periphery (belt - I do forget to put one on at times and then my pants start falling down), and paraphernalia (meaning anything else I need like a book or a briefcase or snake -actually that wouldn't usually happen because I refused to let Clay bring his snake to the barn which would have meant that I'd end up having to go out and buy little live mice to feed to it in my own mini coliseum. No way.). So I'd gone through this checklist but forgotten the rail card.
I was kicking myself mentally and grumbling as I stood waiting for the train and realized I'd have to do something about this aggravation. I'd have to transform this experience into something that was rewarding. I had to make it pay for itself. I thought of the old bumper-sticker, "Grass, gas, or ass - nobody rides for free!" and failed in creating an appropriate version for the rail card moment. It was irrelevant and crude.
I have to make this into something that doesn't bother me. I start thinking, "So I must transfer "lost" six dollars to "paid" or "used" six dollars for something that seems worth it. What did I get out of this. A lesson of course. A lessen in - ah, mindfulness. Yes, mindfulness, that sacred word, that number seven in the Eight-fold path - Right Mindfulness. This tragedy would make me contemplate mindfulness. My first thought was that mindfulness is the most irritating of big eight, the others being right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, and concentration.
I remembered the day back in '68 or so the bridge to the baths was swept away by the raging Tassajara Creek, now become a lethal force. We put spikes into the large Sycamore tree that leaned over the creek to hover above the roof to the bathhouse. Bob Halpern prepared to climb up and over with rope tied to his waist, the first step in making a new, temporary bridge. I was used to getting up in trees because I worked on the Tassajara phone line and I said to Bob, "No you are not going up there without safety gear," which would have connected him to the tree so that if he lost his grip he wouldn't be carried downstream by the rapids smashing into rocks and pulled under. At that point, an idealistic student who will go unnamed, turned to me and said in a lofty tone of voice, "If he is mindful he will not fall."
Most are too young or too high brow to remember Jimmy Hatlo's They'll Do it Every Time, a one square comic that ran in the papers when I was a kid. It would present some everyday life situation that was maddening and there would be a little guy in the corner jumping up and down, grimacing, tearing out his hair maybe, and groaning, "Urge to maim!" That's how I felt that day when the unnamed student said that, and that's just one of many reasons that the very mention of the word "mindfulness" is irritating to me.
I have another memory from that bridge building event that sticks in my mind. Bob had gotten the first rope across (using the proper safety gear) and we'd used that rope to bring heavier rope over and then another and had threaded these through blocks of wood with holes we'd drilled on the sides and then nailed planks onto. This created a swaying walkway upon which I walked with a heavy maybe eight, foot long 4"x6" beam that was to be propped behind an opening in the wall so there was something better to tie the ropes to and to hold the bridge. There wasn't a handrail rope yet, just this slightly swinging one foot wide series of planks. I staggered like a drunk holding the beam so that it went left to right for balance in a way that made me feel like a trapeze artist which is something I'd never want to be. Then the end of the beam I was carrying just dipped into the water and I barely got it out and balanced swinging back and forth till things were more under control again and I took the next step. The raging creek was only a couple of feet below and I wanted to get over to the other side before one of the occasional branches it carried came smashing into me. But it happened again - the end of the beam dipped into the water and it caught and we wrestled and the raging creek was winning but I hated to give up. I could hear voices yelling at me from the bank to let go and reluctantly I did because I knew I'd lost and it was gonna go and better I didn't go with it and as I let go I saw that beam race away with frightening speed to disappear. I felt a timeless sense of loss, like I'd just let go of a treasured child, lost forever vanishing into the distance. A few moments later spurred on by buddies I set out with another beam and was more mindful and got that one across - and that memory of having to let go, that image, yet remains.
Now for a pleasant memory of the word "mindfulness," nostalgically I remember the Mindfulness Curtain in the barn where Katrinka, Clay sometimes, and I live. It's a noren, a Japanese hanging divider, indigo - aizome as I recall. There's no door at the top of the stairs so we hung it to keep a bit of the heat in and for the aesthetics, and for the mindfulness lessons when coming and going. It has three flaps so one can walk through it. At the top a pipe went through a tube of material and hung on both sides by jumbo nails I'd driven. Problem was that it was barely on and if one wasn't careful it would fall off. So we called it the Mindfulness Curtain. It was most likely to fall if you were carrying something that would catch on it. It was sort of fun. We'd refer to it a lot. It was like a member of the house along with the cats and dog, may she rest in peace. Remembering it makes me homesick though it's been fixed so that it doesn't require mindfulness anymore - due to a period when we were carrying a lot in and out.
[posting 10-26 - to be continued today if not tomorrow if not even after that.] [And here we are after that - on 11-09. Changes made above also]
Back to my dilemma. How to make this stop bothering me, the fact that I'd forgotten to bring the rail card and thus paid six Euro too much for the train ticket.
Ah, compare to worse examples. My grandfather once drove off from a service station while on a trip and didn't realize he'd left my grandmother there for quite a while - and this is when they were fairly young. She remembered that.
I felt so bad for my mother when she brought the wrong passport to the airport to fly with my sister to visit me in Japan nineteen years ago. It was such a big deal for her and it was such a shock to her when the airline worker informed her that her passport was expired. She had done a dumb thing - put the new one with the old one - and then had picked up the wrong one. And there she was at SFO thirteen hundred miles from the right one in Fort Worth. I don't know if this helped - it couldn't have hurt - but my sister had once worked as an adjudicator in the passport division of the State Department. They had time to get to the State Dept. office in San Francisco before it closed and time the next morning to get a new one or a temporary one or something and get to the airport to just make the flight one day late. Elin and I were fortunate to learn about this before going to the airport in Osaka to meet them. I guess I made a call to check on them and found out. Another thing we were fortunate about is that we'd both gotten strangely simultaneously ill the day there original flight was booked for. We'd spent hours at the giant Osaka Flower Expo or whatever and at the end of the day I remember us sitting by a pond and realizing that we were coming down with something. We zipped over to Kyoto where there was a beautful now vacant but reserved tatami room waiting for us in this really nice Ryokan. I remember that Ted Kennedy had stayed there. Elin and I crashed there for twelve hours and both woke up refreshed and feeling fine. Yeah, that worked out perfectly so it didn't make me feel better to compare it with forgetting my rail card.
I thought of the time I put my wonderful Gibson J-45 behind my car parked off the drive in Chuck Gould's field and going to the front to open the trunk and getting involved straightening things there then getting in and backing up and thinking there must be some rock behind the car I'm driving up on and then with a bolt of terror realizing what I'd forgotten. A Guitar Center employee said they can go for $3500. There's a nice man who works on string instruments who said he thinks he could get it playing again and wouldn't mind trying and we agreed not to go for cosmetics, just for sound. He also said that he'd backed up over prize mandolins - twice. Much worse than forgetting a rail card in Germany.
I thought of Michael Goldberg who made the documentary film on DT Suzuki. He brought his $60,000 camera on loan from Sony into Greens Restaurant and kept it on his lap during the meal. Later he emailed me from England that he'd left it sitting behind a taxi. It didn't get crushed, just driven off from. Later that day he paid a chauffer a reward for it.
I continued running through my thoughts all sorts of disasters that had happened to people like leaving ten thousand in cash in a phone booth and so forth and they all pointed to how fortunate I was and how tiny a problem this was but I decided I needed a more positive approach because it was still bothering me.
So I went back to the idea that I'd paid six Euro for a good lesson. But I had to make it stick, so I pictured myself as someone seeking mindfulness training and finding an add on a bulletin board for a one day course in mindfulness at the community center for sixty dollars. Then I pictured a more high end three day mindfulness workshop at Esalen Inst. for six hundred dollars that I, as a professional needed to take. Then I saw myself as a person with a good deal of excess wealth that paid six thousand dollars for a one month mindfulness program at Asilomar in Pebble beach. I knew there was a way to spend sixty thousand dollars developing mindfulness but I stopped there. I didn't need it. I didn't need any of these programs or practices. I'd paid only six dollars for what turned out to be the most effective mindfulness program ever devised. It was the sudden school of mindfulness. I marveled at how practical and thrifty I was, decided I'd share this revelation with fellow cukesters, and walked on through the cobbled streets of Freiburg content and smiling.
Of course that was all silly mindfulness on a par with saying something you like is real Zen. From this link one can read about mindfulness as part of the Eightfold Path, wherein we find Buddha's breakdown of the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.
And from there one can continue exploring this term and what it really means - like maybe not paying so much attention to all those ridiculous thoughts that go streaming by.
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