Tag Archives: mindfulness

Revealing Character Through Ritual and Routine

maxineMaxine Hong Kingston is a journalist, activist, and author of several memoirs. While her credentials ground her in reality, magic and mysticism permeate her work.

At a talk in Seattle many years ago, she mentioned something about ritual lending meaning to everyday life. Ritual can infuse a new beginning with hope and optimism, or bring closure to long-standing pain. Ritual brackets and celebrates events, and can still fold up and fit in your pocket.

As an example, eating an orange is the quickest and easiest for me to enter a state of complete mindfulness. The pockmarked skin, the sound of tearing it open, the fragrant orange-smell, plus the way it feels soft, or cold — and of course, the sweet or sour taste. There’s something about eating an orange that makes it really easy for me to be 100% aware, focused, and present.

It’s not because it’s my favorite fruit, though.

I grew up pagan, and on the solstices and equinoxes we would eat oranges or orange slices as a little shout-out to the sun and its role as a fixed point, astrophysically and metaphorically, in the chaos of our lives. It’s possible that this tiny bit of sun-worship informs my relationship with oranges, although I don’t set out to worship during lunch, per se.

What we do as ritual, how we do it, says a lot about where we’re coming from. It describes our mental state in a roundabout way. It describes what we value, why we seek peace, and how we go about it. It can be as small as the way someone pulls their hair back, or as large as the rallying of a city.

What rituals show up in your story?  What rituals show up in your life?

Addictions are poor substitutes for the rituals you need but have not yet found.”
Michael Meade

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

Great Brown Bear is walking with us, Salmon is swimming upstream with us, as we stroll a city street.”
― Gary Snyder
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Death, Antiquing, and Why I Don’t Buy Souveniers

Impermanence has been on my mind lately. There’s a certain freedom that comes with a lack of attachment, but sometimes I want to forget this truth.

I went to an antique show for the first time this past weekend. It was sunny and windy, and I got amazingly sunburned. There was a wide array of stuff — as you might guess — everything from 70s kitsch to ‘ancient’ coins to furniture in various stages of refinishing. The crowning glory of all of this was a medical model for giving birth. As my friend and I walked through the twenty-six aisles of history, we came across more energy-loaded objects. Piles of children’s shoes. Chipped bayonets and spearheads. Finally, a case with hundreds of diamond rings inside.

As I looked at the case, (I love sparkly things, one of my dearest friends calls me Magpie for this reason) I started to feel some kind of resonance off them. These had belonged to someone, once. How many broken marriages — or refused proposals — were sitting under this case? How many had been sold by happy couples, raising money for something greater than themselves? How many had been stolen, or lost, or trickled down from estate sales?

From then on, being in the presence of these precious objects became intensely surreal.

All these antiques, from jewels to dressers to road-signs were plucked from time. They’re imbued with their own stories and history even if they’re valueless otherwise. I can’t participate in collecting the way my friend and the other shoppers can, because I’m averted to souvenirs. I’m afraid of losing them.

Whenever I travel, I don’t keep things for myself. I’ll either leave them for the next person, or give them to my family. All the scrolls I brought back from the monastery are in different states — storing my memories in the safety of my loved ones’ homes. I move around a lot, and I’m concerned anything precious I collect will be lost or destroyed. My brother and sister are rooted, with families of their own; whereas I flit around, digging and exploring.

I can’t become attached to these objects without knowing — to my bones — that they will be destroyed in the fullness of time. I feel as ephemeral as they are, and I know that I too, one day, will be destroyed.

I only keep small things, sentimental things. I brought two stones back from China. One was for a friend by request (a chip of the training ground that Sifu threw at me in good-natured abuse). The other was a piece of stone from the mountaintop.

There had been so much mica on the mountain that the dirt and tree-roots glittered halfway up it. Once we had ascended, I remember looking out and watching the leaves blowing in the wind — rustling so loudly they sounded like waves crashing on a beach. The walkway to the temples are long stretches of stone that look like melted silver. I have a chip of that silver.

I feel so close to the knowledge that everything dies that it sucks the meaning from objects… Except for small things. Sentimental things. I’ll lose a souvenir, but I’ll always remember a scent, or a bit of music.

All of my stories have a character who experiences this. Someone so old, or so deep into the truth that they can’t cope with it. They can’t remember how to be human anymore. I’m grateful for their company, and the warning of what I could become if I’m unable to turn away from death now and then.

I can collect and lose objects. I have befriended, loved, and lost people. My memories of experience endure, like scent, like sight; but I’ve never found a way to capture and store the feeling of bonding with another person. My characters help me understand what it means to be detached — not only for them but for the friends and family they leave behind.

The ability to connect with others is as vital as food and water, to me — and I think it’s why I would never choose enlightenment. I think that’s what keeps us from losing ourselves in the sea of time. The ring is nothing. Attachment is nothing; and yet it is everything.

 

Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
― Miyamoto Musashi

 

Nothing endures but change.
― Heraclitus

 

shoes

 

Productivity Through Procrastination (Seriously)

Deadpool loves pancakes (and belongs to Marvel Comics.)

I’ve learned to appreciate procrastination as a useful force.  Procrastination, for me at least, becomes incredibly productive. Whether there’s a pancake or a crepe on my plate, I’m still eating that day, and that’s ok.

Pancakes are thick. Pancakes are a main event. You slather all this stuff on a pancake to enjoy the pancake. Pancake days are when you have extra energy — like thick ribbons of batter — devote yourself wholeheartedly to one thing, one project, one goal. When you’re focused, and you immerse yourself in what you’re trying to do, you’re guaranteed to get something out of it.

Crepes on the other hand spread thin. There’s not as much energy or motivation to work with, so it’s impossible to lay anything on thick. Crepes are usually a vehicle to deliver other things to your mouth anyway. There is no main project, but lots of other interesting things, like spinach & feta, or strawberries and chocolate syrup. Crepe days are when you devote a little bit of energy to a lot of different pursuits.

I had a crepe day this weekend. I had all kinds of writing projects I wanted to do, grown-up chores I needed to handle, phone calls I promised I’d make, and theater dates that I broke without so much as a lame excuse. I didn’t want to do a damned thing. I didn’t even want to catch up on Netflix. I was so deep into procrastinating that I couldn’t be bothered with the normal things I did to procrastinate. I ended up playing violin for hours. I haven’t touched that thing in years. As much as I wanted to get stuff done, and felt truly awful about not touching any of it, I can’t call it a wasted day.

In truth, there are no wasted days. Check in with yourself. If you feel like you’re spread TOO thin, pick a project and have a pancake day: immerse yourself in one pursuit. If you’re knee-deep and you want out, have a crepe day: reconnect with things you haven’t had a chance to enjoy. You’ll still eat that day, and that’s ok.

Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us.”
― Marcus Buckingham

Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
― Sun Tzu