I did not realize how spacious my head had become until my one-month stay in Uganda ended and I returned to Asheville for work. I was feeling full and had symptoms of a cold that made my head fuller. One leg of the journey, from Qatar to Philadelphia airport was 13 hours and 46 minutes in air. Add that to the trip from Uganda to Qatar, then Philly to Asheville and you might get the picture of the heaviness and weariness I felt which compounded with the wintry weather to heighten the gray mood. On top of that I was carrying two large suitcases filled with home goodness. I was happy about the contents of my suitcases and the fact that I had basked in sunshine prior my return. My head had absorbed a lot of stories and nourishment so I felt full to the brim, in both good and overwhelming ways.
The moment I stepped on campus and went to print my syllabi, I could not find my ID. In my memory, I’d left it on my desk. A few minutes later, somewhat confused, I wondered where my head was. That’s when I felt the emptiness, a vast emptiness of space in my head. I dropped down my chin to my chest, listened and felt nothing. I gathered up the books I was to use as though to hold onto something concrete while denying the reality of the space in my head.
On my way to the classroom, one of my colleagues greeted me cheerfully and asked how my trip was, if I was ready for the semester. I told her that there was nothing in my head. How to explain it, but she quickly said, very good, that is what mindfulness is. You empty everything out. If you have achieved that, you’re onto a good start. God bless her heart! She helped change my perspective from being overwhelmed, from the sense of loss I was feeling to a warm sensation of a new beginning.
The dictionary defines mindfulness as:
1 the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 2 a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
I had not set out to find or engage with mindfulness but it found me. As I eased into it, I realized that things were unfolding as they should. I still had a body, all right, but I was experiencing liquid, then gas. The ability of the body and mind to attain buoyancy with the right kind of encouragement. When I got home, I organized my living space and in the course of that remembered one of the wishes a friend had sent me for the New Year: Wishing you a Mindful New Year. How appropriate it now felt. Afterwards, I opened the book on my table, The Present Moment by Penney Peirce and read: “When you give something away or lose something or someone, it’s important to understand that space is as real, as important, and as enjoyable as form.” In the margins Penney had also written: “When I let go of things, I make space for my soul to surprise me with new creativity and forms of support.” I closed the book, closed my eyes and the first insight that popped into my being was: How loud the universe speaking to me.
I was grateful for the absent head, otherwise, it might have intervened and said, yeah, mere coincidence, chance, there’s nothing new about serendipitous moments and so on and so forth.
I would like to believe that I know better now but not quite. The idea of a lost ID seeped into my porous self and I immediately embarked upon finding it. I opened drawers, bags, books, coat pockets, jackets, and containers that might purposely or accidentally keep an ID. I was quite obsessive about the search. Hours went by. I could not accept that it was simply lost.
What a waste of time, I began thinking, followed by more dialogue with self:
- It’s an insignificant loss, really, stop beating yourself up or trying to recall the last time you used it, which in fact was the 10th of December. What are you going to do about that? Just give up and ask for a new ID. Relax and better yet, do laundry.
- What? Laundry, how unexciting!
- Yes, laundry. It can’t be worse than fruitlessly looking for an ID. At least you’d achieve something; clean clothes, not to forget the refreshing scent of newly laundered clothes.
Reluctantly, my body still fused with resistance, I moved to the closet and in preparation for laundry emptied pockets of my dresses and pants. Eventually I softened, even smiled at the idea of clean clothes and that’s when I found the ID—in my last jeans pocket.
Why this elaborate, mundane story? I guess the purpose is to admit to myself first that in spite of the foretaste of awareness, I’m yet to figure out how to stay in it continually without necessarily becoming a monk. My wish is that I may evermore occupy the space of such knowing [if possible]. But the territory of being human urges me to question, doubt, fear, and second-guess what is possible. This all-too-human justification is also probably an indication that I am right now stepping out of mindfulness! I must pause therefore, and wish you all a weekend of Mindfulness, Space and Form, then back to the cycle.