Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mindfulness on an ordinary day--or not

Today was an ordinary day, the kind when nothing big happens except a trip to Central Market. The kind of day I enjoy, but also the kind that makes me think I have time to be self-aware, to meditate, to, as some would say it, get in touch with myself. There are lots of huge questions lurking in my mind, from what do I really want out of life to how will I plot that next novel but I, like most of us, get so involved in the daily-ness of life that I push those questions to the back of my mind.

My brother recently told me that he read that mindfulness, that state of living in the present moment, observing your thoughts and actions as though from a distance without judging them good or bad, inhibits creativity. Oops! There goes that. I need my creativity, the right side of my brain. I’d have thought just the opposite—that mindfulness would enhance creativity.

A certain sense of distance is also one of the signs of anxiety—or at least it is to me. If I'm anxious I can feel as though I’m watching myself drive to the store, walk through the vegetable section, choose my dinner from the fish counter, joke with the guy at the checkout register.

So who are we to believe? Is it better to be in the present moment or experiencing it as an outsider? I guess to my mind it’s better to be actively engaged in the present moment—as a writer, I can store actions, events, feelings away for use later on.

On another but perhaps related note, I’m reading a wonderful book titled God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet. Dr. Sweet worked for years at Laguna Honda, the San Francisco hospital for indigent, incurable patients—the last almshouse in the nation. To help her understand her patients, she studied the works of Hildegard, the 16th Century nun who ministered to the poor. Hildegard’s medicine was based on observation and the four humors—if an ill person was too dry, he or she needed moisture; too wet, dryness was needed. That’s a simplification of what was really a complicated set of medical beliefs. But wrapped up in that—and in Sweet’s medical philosophy—is the concept of holistic medicine: treat the soul as well as the body. Much of the Laguna Honda philosophy and practice speaks clearly against modern medicine which divides the patient into physical parts. Sweet saw few cures but some were remarkable; more, she saw—and treated—the spirit of her patients. She saw them as people, not simply as patients.

I’m trying in my mind to link the Laguna Honda philosophy to the concept of mindfulness, and I guess what I keep coming back to is the concept of distance. Why should we distance ourselves from our lives—be it sickness, health, joy, sadness. I think we need to live in the moment, experiencing it as fully as we can. And that in itself is an art.

Rambling thoughts on a Saturday night when I’ve had an exceptionally good dinner and a nice glass of wine….

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