Presence of Mind

Featured Image: “Bicycle,” © Ian Sane (own work), Dec 2009. CC BY 2.0. (license)

“I am not absent-minded. It is the presence of the mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”

~ G.K. Chesterton

In my imagination, there is an ideal of what it would mean to be perfectly mindful. There is a notion, a concept, of always being in the present – fully aware of what is going on around me, fully conscious, awake, and attentive to my external environment and my internal thoughts and emotions. My therapist tries to tell me that to be always mindful would not be mindful, but that makes little sense to me. As I gradually make my way through my book on mindful self-compassion, I draw encouragement from learning that the moment we become aware that we are not being mindful, we become mindful. (I know that I’ve been writing about this same book for months. I’m a slow reader, okay! It also doesn’t help that I jump from one book to another, then onto a third, then back to the first).

One afternoon, last weekend, I set out for an autumn bike ride along the paved trails near my house.

The fall is one of my favorite seasons, and it always stirs up some very strong memories and emotions. They swirl together fluidly, making it impossible to follow a linear ribbon of thought or recollection. Light and dark, faces and names, places and ideas, happiness, joy, gratitude, nostalgia, pain, loss, guilt, delight, sorrow, shame, laughter, tears… they all mix together like so many disparate ingredients poured into one giant bowl. Flour, sugar, eggs, and milk form a smooth batter, never to be constituent parts again, but richer for their joining.

My mind was fluttering with activity as I pedaled along the tree-lined paths, legs pumping, lungs heaving, and heart nearly bursting with all the glory of that autumn afternoon. When I returned to my apartment, I was in danger of falling into self-criticism for being so mindless. Though I did notice the sparkling rays of the setting sun, the fresh current of the air, and the smell of damp earth, I could not deny that I was largely preoccupied during my ride. As I stretched my sore quads, I turned on the television to a biopic of G.K. Chesterton. Not knowing much about this British author, I continued to watch, and I found myself presented with the above quote. It gave me pause for deeper consideration.

Perhaps there is more to this practice of mindfulness than I am allowing.

chesterton
G.K. Chesterton,” © Zach Brissett (own work), Aug 2005. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. (license)
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4 thoughts on “Presence of Mind

  1. It takes work to stay mindful, and for me, doing so while riding a bike could be like trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. 😉 Well, I’m not that bad; but, I think because biking requires an assortment of skills, it would be hard not to let the mind escape for a bit; that in itself is healthy. It gives the mind a break from other issues or troubles while at the same time giving the body a good workout. Is becoming perfectly mindful even possible? I wonder. This is a nice, thought-provoking post. 🙂

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    1. Hi Karen Lee 😊 Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Maybe there is a different kind of mindfulness that comes to me when biking – an awareness of all those different actions that it requires – “I’m turning the pedals, I’m shifting the gears, I’m pumping my legs.” Sometimes my mind does escape, and I agree, it does feel healthy and freeing. It felt so healthy and freeing the other day. I’m pretty sure that being perfectly mindful is not actually possible, just as perfection in general is not possible. Just a matter of trying to do our best every day.

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  2. Mindfulness has a ton of flavors. It’s crystal-clear blue, when you’re in the midst of otherworldly meditation. It’s bright red, as you close your eyes with your face to the sun. It’s green and purple and then orange, as your thoughts meander everywhere while you hike or run or color.

    It’s gray and florescent green, to symbolize rest and hypersensitivity … My theory is that mindfulness isn’t simply a calm and clear head, it’s the freedom to traverse the smog gray and white noise that can dominate our subconscious and keep us from a liberated soul.

    I love to read about your journey.

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  3. Hi Eli! Sorry that it took me a few days to get back to you (I seem to be issuing a lot of the same apology lately, but I know you understand). Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! I really love connecting with you over our writing. Your perspective on mindfulness, color, smoggy-ness, and mind-wandering is wonderful. I guess mindfulness is the ability to watch our minds wander, rather than be carried away where we don’t want to go against our will and then wonder how we got where we are and why we’re reacting the way we do. Rising above the white noise. It sounds so great, yet it’s so hard! Thanks for reading and sharing the journey. Hope you are well and your own journey is going along ok with all its own twists and turns. I do need to get back over to your site. Take care!

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