What to do when you catch yourself in a storm of mindlessness?
As a yogi, you might think you are supposed to be all mindful all the time. Fully present, aware of the here and now, peacefully floating from moment to moment in a soft sea of contentment, releasing the past as it unfolds with non-attachment, non-grasping, receiving and embracing whatever gift life offers you with a full open heart of gratitude.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?
Do you sometimes catch yourself, noticing the gap between that idealist picture of a state of "mindfulness" and whatever puddle of reality you've suddenly stomped into as you curse yourself for wearing the wrong shoes?
On Tuesday, there was rain in the forecast. I congratulated myself for knowing this and bringing my umbrella with me on the train to work. The umbrella was a gift from my husband who probably saw me struggle one too many times with old golf umbrellas, sporting more broken spokes than functioning ones. This new umbrella has a spectacular design. It sort of opens the opposite way as you'd expect, hard to describe but intuitive when you see it in action.
So I didn't mind that it was going to rain; I could put my fancy new device into action. I slide it on the top rack above my center table seat on the train, set up my laptop, Spotify, smoothie, coffee. The rituals of the morning commute unfolding to the gentle rhythms along the tracks.
Today's smoothie is flavorful. Almond milk, sliver of fresh ginger, mile-high pile of spinach leaves, dollop of peanut butter, scoop of plain yogurt, dash of cinnamon, chunk of frozen banana & mango. Blended to Vitamix-empowered perfection. Some people are anti-smoothie, for a variety of reasons that make good sense. But I enjoy my morning smoothie. When it's gone, I switch to coffee, transported in a remarkable travel mug, which keeps hot beverages hot for miraculously long periods of time. We're drinking Peets Major Dickason's right now in the Evans household. I selected a bag of these beans for the first time in months (ever?) from the wide, wide selection of brands and roasts and flavors that line the shelves in the coffee aisle. Unbelievably, my husband came home from the store on a separate trip the very next day, not knowing I had stocked up, returning with the exact same beans. One of those moments of serendipity that make you say, "no way" or "no sir!" as some say. Like the time when I gave a co-worker my cell phone number to debrief after a client meeting. "Hi - it's Cristina..." she says, and begins to tell me her thoughts on the call. At least, that's what she later told me had happened. In reality, she discovered that the woman on the phone was NOT me, that I had mistakenly given her the wrong number, the number of a person who had been expecting a call from another Cristina. The wrong number, the wrong Cristina, but plenty of laughs once it was all sorted. Actually the wrong number story was nothing like having two of the same bags of beans in our house, but life is funny like that sometimes nonetheless.
As the train arrives to South Station, I repack my laptop in the backpack, my smoothie and coffee containers secured in their pouches. I step off the train and into the herd as I do every morning, lock step with fellow commuters who efficiently zip off three emails by the time we reach the end of the platform, one eye on the foot traffic, the other on a tiny screen, daring us to increase our productivity through constant connectivity.
I'm halfway to the office when I smell the weight of the rain clouds forming in the air.
And then it hits me. I have my backpack, pocketbook, phone, lunch bag, coffee mug, smoothie container -- and no umbrella. My beautiful innovative indescribable perfect umbrella! I could picture it, discretely tucked on the train luggage rack above my seat.
What would you do? Carry on and cut your losses? Or, like me, do you turn right around, knowing that the quest to retrieve the lost item is in all likelihood rather foolish. The trains get turned around pretty quickly at the station for outbound departure. And, as I approach the platforms, I realize that in my mindless haze, I have no idea which track I had arrived on minutes earlier. I had left the train in a pack, gaze down, thoughts scattered anywhere, everywhere, but here.
How is it possible for someone who practices "mindfulness" to be so completely unaware what track I had just come from minutes before? I stop. Static in a sea of morning commuters striding purposefully towards their workday. So what if I lost my new umbrella. It's an object. We yogis aren't supposed to feel attached to objects. I can ask Matt where he got it. Surely there are others. Oh, but I really, really like this umbrella!
What would you do? Pick this time to shrug and practice non-attachment and forge on with your day? That might have saved me from getting my hopes up too high that I was so close, SO close, to reuniting with my abandoned rain gear. But no. I turn down one of the platforms, between two trains with doors shut, no signs to guide me. I peek into one of them, it's dark. I turn the other direction, that train is also dark.
But suddenly, I catch sight of a train conductor. MY train conductor. He's sitting at a table reviewing paperwork, ticket stubs, schedules. I recognize him instantly because he's unforgettable in a sea of sameness for a city-bound transit system. He cracks jokes over the intercom. He greets us with energy and optimism disproportionate to the expressionless presentation of passengers; he chides us for a variety of reasons, any and all reasons, as good-natured as they come. His mission in life seems to be to bring a smile to the face of an everyday commuter. I think it usually works. It's not uncommon in his cars to hear people chuckling and exchanging jovial words with him and with each other, contrasted to other rides where silence is the overarching characteristic.
Would it occur to you that any lost items would have already been swept from the train and deposited into the depths of the station Lost & Found? That thought didn't cross my mind. I start knocking and waving wildly on the train window, grinning like Belichick heading with his team to yet another Super Bowl. Hero Train Conductor isn't quite sure what to make of me, but he motions me in, where I reclaim my lost umbrella and smile and bow in gratitude about a dozen times. I literally put my hands together at the heart and bowed. I don't know how often this happens on the typical Tuesday morning commute.
So what do you do when you catch yourself in a storm of mindlessness? How do you use a relatively inconsequential lapse as a moment of introspection? For me, I reflect on how lack of mindfulness nearly cost me a new umbrella, and at the same time I'm aware of how silly that sounds. I'm aware that South Station acts as an unofficial shelter without services for the city's homeless during brutal weather. I'm aware that each person who thinks, "I'm having a tough day" brings an entirely different historical context and relative rating system to that assessment. I, for the moment, remind myself to lift my head up and see what's happening around me. This is a continual practice, a journey, with progress and growth and set-backs and opportunities to reset, begin again, screw up, and keep going. We aren't granted "lifetime status mindfulness" badges, where it's all sunshine, peaceful meadows, and happy puppies. At least for today, when the clouds release, I'll be prepared.