“Look at the Indians, Laura,” said Pa. “Look west, and then look east, and see what you see.” *
Laura Ingalls Wilder was watching the Native Americans leave the land on which her family had settled. The Osage chief who had just saved their lives by convincing other neighboring tribes to leave rather than kill the white people now led his own people away on horseback in a line that stretched from one horizon to the other. Young Laura saw a particular baby she wanted as her own. When her parents explained the mother wanted to keep her baby, Laura became increasingly upset. Her father broke in with this exhortation to “see” what she was seeing.
In this unlikely (and undeniably tragic) story, we find two major Buddhist concepts which have recently come to my attention — mindfulness and desire. According to Buddhist teaching one leads to insight, the other to suffering.
Professor Ronald D. Seigel defines mindfulness as “awareness of the present moment with acceptance.” Think about each part of that phrase.
of the present moment
When was the last time you were fully aware of the present moment with acceptance? Before I began to pursue mindfulness practice, I could not count many times I had been mindful. But the other day, I spent time with my two daughters, really listening to them, enjoying them, fully present in that priceless moment. No smart phone. No craft project. No consideration for the day’s agenda. I was fully present with them in that moment, accepting them and the moment exactly as they were. It was glorious.
This sort of mindfulness does not come easily. It requires constant effort and practice. Try it for 5 minutes. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. But when we practice mindfulness, we find ourselves increasingly aware and accepting of the present. In a culture where multitasking has gone from admirable to necessary to addictive, we long for a return to simplicity.
The incarnation was the ultimate act of mindfulness. The Son of God who exists outside of time, took on flesh and placed himself within the constraints of time. He lived moment to moment just as we do. There were times he talked about the past or the future, but he did so while being present with people, listening to them, meeting their needs, empathizing with them. And he encouraged them to be present in the moment too.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34, NIV.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus in his humanity. He knows what is about to happen. He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) He sweats drops of blood. Yet even in this moment of utter terror, he finds acceptance. How? We’ll talk about that next.
Photo Credit: Luca Galuzzi, http://www.galuzzi.it/
* Wilder, Laura Ingalls. (1953) Little House on the Prairie. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. p. 310.