Sunday Blog: My Gift Of Mindfulness

What I wanted more than anything for my 62nd birthday was to become more mindful. Too many screeching tea kettles and pots of scorched rice were testaments that my Gemini-sanctioned multitasking skills were careering out of control. It was time to seize the steering wheel, the day, the moment. I needed to get me to a monastery.

I live in the Hudson River Valley, an area overly blessed by Mother Nature. Studded into its green, velvet hills are monasteries, convenient for stressed-out city dwellers and locals alike to drop in for a taste of mindfulness at its most mindful.

Blue Cliff Monastery, started by the venerated Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, was an hour away. I made a plan to visit on what they offer as a Day of Mindfulness.

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I woke up in plenty of time to arrive for the 9:30am Dharma talk. Except I forgot to factor in all of my morning rituals: a coconut oil pull, an apple cider vinegar drink (sipped, not gulped), and a light breakfast (with coffee). Packing the car with day trip necessities, I spent too much time deciding on shoes and worrying about ticks, and, with a jolt, realized that my mindful start to a mindful day was already behind schedule.

Skipping breakfast, I aimed my Subaru into Ulster County. Close to my ETA, I realized that I was not on the right road. I would get there, albeit in a roundabout way, but late. I am the type of person who can’t watch a movie if I miss the credits. I hate to be late.

Driving up to the monastery, I took a moment to breathe in the calmness of the surroundings, then entered the Great Togetherness Meditation Hall. This was the moment I dreaded: disturbing the concentration of those already seated on cushions and chairs. People who were not late. People who were mindful.

I chose a cushion and dropped myself as inconspicuously as possible into a Half Lotus pose, promising myself I would not budge for at least ten minutes. I then immersed myself into the dharma talk, which was led by Thich Nhat Hanh himself, larger than life, on a screen.

He immediately put me at ease, soothing my guilty, tardy conscience. I knew very little about this man whom his followers call “Thay,” or “teacher,” but his demeanor was wise and gentle, and with a wit that let me know it was okay to be a human struggling in this life. Talking about the inter-relatedness of suffering and happiness, he drew a lotus blossom rooted in the earth. “Without mud, there is no lotus.” And later, with a nod to the divisiveness in our country (as I interpreted it): “Without a left side, there is no right side.”

I had just learned the day before that a