Mindfulness and Cute Shoes
Practicing mindfulness isn't always easy. Considering whether to buy a cute pair of shoes is harder since I started seeing how everything in the universe relies upon everything else. Knowing I am part of the web of life, I can't live my life the way I always have. Changing my conditioned way of thinking - literally changing my brain - has been uncomfortable. It's a lot easier to let my neurons fire in their same old way, than it is to consider each moment freshly.
That's because our brains are designed to create order out of the world -- we are habit makers. The practice of mindfulness continually breaks up our habits in order to free us from our conditioning and reminds us how dependent we are on each other. And that can make us feel less grounded and more confused about how to act in each moment.
In a recent New York Times article, Michael Pollin described the 100 trillion microbes living in and on our bodies on whom we depend for our health and well-being. Thich Nhat Hanh says that the sun is our "heart outside of our bodies" because it is just as imperative for our survival as the heart inside our chest. Everything relies on everything else.
Knowing this, how do I decide whether to order those shoes or even what to eat for lunch? Do I need to check in with my microbes? Do I eat in a way that destroys the earth on which I depend? Do I buy shoes made in a country in which people are suffering in unhealthy work conditions? Do I choose to give money to a homeless man on the street, or spend that money on an herbal iced tea? Everything I do to someone else, I am doing to myself as well.
It starts to get really difficult. But even though it's difficult, we have to act.
So where do we turn to help us decide what to do? Thich Nhat Hanh says that our teachers offer us wisdom and our communities offer us wisdom, but the most perfect teacher is the present moment. Phillip Moffitt says that each moment "self-liberates." And since it's always fresh, there's no way to plan for the present moment.
Like trying to plan for the first time you have sex or for being a parent, it just can't be done. It's only in each moment that we can experience life. As Tolstoy teaches in his famous story "The Three Questions": the most important person is the one in front of us, the most important activity is what we are doing, and the most important time is now.
So the challenge is to trust that in any moment we will have the wisdom to know how to act from our deepest intentions of compassion and loving kindness. And the way to develop this ability is through mindfulness. The more we are able to be present, the more we see that we are interdependent with all that is, and the more we are able to bring that wisdom to the next moment. It's a moment-by-moment practice.
Much as I would like there to be, I have found that there is no "right" answer to every situation. There's just my willingness to be in this moment and experience my dependence on everything in the universe. The only way to plan for any future moment is to live fully in the moment I am in now. Then when that future moment comes, I will be there waiting for it with a clear mind. And I may even know whether to order those shoes.