Today’s Buddhist lesson (with a nod to Baba Ram Dass): Mindfulness means being completely present, here, now, in this fleeting moment. Seems like a simple idea, but it’s a maddening difficult practice, as our mind is constantly leaping back and forth between the past (“I’m so angry at what _____ said yesterday/ 10 years ago”) and the future (“okay, let’s see, I have to drive _____ to soccer, pick up _______, finish my taxes and get strawberries for dinner tonight.”)
Now add to the mix the increased presence of 24/7 media in our life that is asking us to be anywhere but where we are in the moment. Not only having a FOMO moment when our friends are at the cool bar down the block, but taking on our small shoulders the worries of the world as we find out about the next disaster, big or small, that is taking place so far away—but as the virus testifies, has the power to arrive at our doorstep. That’s a lot of places and pasts and futures to hold in mind!
I think the most difficult thing about the coronavirus response is how abstract and distant and invisible it feels. In San Francisco, every day sees more closures and events cancelled. But all around us, in plain sight, are healthy people walking around as usual—and not even wearing masks. It takes a healthy imagination to understand that anyone could be carrying this infectious virus and that we would do well to act “as if” to stop its spread. But as much as I celebrate the imagination, it can go to far and start spinning out doomsday scenarios worse than is called for and start stoking fear beyond a healthy distrust. But hey, who can say what a “healthy distrust” looks like these days?
At this point, I certainly would not recommend “being here now” and only attending to what’s palpable and tangible right in front of your face (which you need to stop touching!). But neither would I recommend wholly ignoring it. We do—and will—need some time to be more attentive to the gifts of the present and close the door to the constant threat of disaster. Like me yesterday in the Arboretum spending a moment with the crab apple trees and daffodils. We shouldn’t be hugging each other, but hey, we still can hug a tree. And smell a flower or two.
Buddha and I recommend it.