On reading Coming to Our Senses (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Almost one hundred pages into Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses, I am glad to read, “Confused at this point? Not a problem.”

I have been eking meditation time at night and trying, really trying, to constantly call myself to mindfulness. I want Kabat-Zinn to just tell me how, and instead, he’s telling me why—sort of. There’s a little ‘how’ thrown in; then he writes that meditation is everywhere, that to talk about technique is to completely defeat the purpose. But then he adds that knowing technique can be helpful too.

He wants me to be aware of being aware.

Aaaargh! Just give me a mantra to mutter and tell me how long to breathe in, how many beats on the exhale…

So I sit at night, my back up against the headboard of my bed, trying hard to relax and be aware. I clear my mind—I like to imagine a little broom sweeping away all the detritus of that inner room. And I breathe and I focus on the breath…

…and guess what? I’m thinking about the laundry. Did I change it over? I hate to have a set of soggy clothes sitting overnight.

Wait! I tell myself. Come back to the present; sweep the mind clean.

I breathe in, mindfully. I breathe out.

And now I’m thinking about the yard, which is half a mess. The tree in front is spewing those horny little pom-poms that look like something Dr. Seuss dreamed up. I’ve gotten the front area raked and bagged—and there were more than a few leaves left over from Fall, since it snowed so early. And Mark and I got the area to the right of the walk done Sunday. So that leaves—

Come back!!! Sweep the mind.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I’m surprised that significant time has passed when I open my eyes. I feel like I’m doing this so completely wrong. And what’s supposed to happen? Where am I supposed to be?

This feels like failure.

And yet.

I take a little inventory and realize that just recently I have begun acting on what I see. I’m washing dishes and I notice an empty pot has rolled out of the carport, dragging a piece of rope with it. There are a couple of little bags that need to go in the trash huddled with them. I dry my hands and run out to pick them up.

Looking out the kitchen window as I return to the dishes I am content—that little vignette looks so much better.

And I’ve been intending to work with Jim on creating a weekly schedule. This week he prints out a template and we fill it in—his appointments, his ‘chore goals’ for each day. We get him set up for the curbside pick-up service to take him to the library Friday, when I’ll be out of town at a meeting.
It feels good to do that, finally.

I pull out the bill file and realize it’s a mess—things are misfiled, unpaid bills are stashed with February’s paid ones; the hanging folders have disappeared. I straighten things and pay what’s due.
As I do that, I notice the number of Kroger trips we’ve made—side trips in addition to the big shoppings, and I take the ledger and the calculator and I figure up just what we spend by taking those little excursions. Ouch! The number hurts, but I am glad to know how money is leaking away; now I can plug that leak.

I meet Kim at Sip’s in Mount Vernon for coffee, and enjoy talking with her about books and church and people whom we both love. Kim has cancer; she’s in a state called ‘reprieve.’
“Come see me,” she wrote. “I have time—but who knows how much?”
All this busyness has been interfering for weeks…and then suddenly, the time was there, and I just went.

The house is straightened, the cookie jar is full; we finally connected with Kay and Brian to plan to get together. The birthday package is in the mail on time, and the weight of things undone does not seem so pressing.

Is that mindfulness? Does that come from awareness? Does meditation foster a clutter-free house? I don’t know…but all of this seems much easier, much more do-able since beginning the book and stepping on to the meditation path. I haven’t gone far, and I’ve already stubbed my toes several times, but maybe, in spite of me, something is happening. I’ll follow Kabat-Zinn’s direction, and sustain and persist.

I do find, though, that I need story. So, in addition to Coming to Our Senses, I am reading a Joanna Trollope novel, The Choir. It’s one of my favorite kinds of relaxing reads—a proper English tale with characters I care about.

This tale takes place in a cathedral town and the central dilemma is whether or not to continue the Cathedral choir. Some plot against; some plot for. The plotters are human and sympathetic even at their Machiavellian worst.

I know which side I’m rooting for.

And it’s interesting to be reading about the Cathedral in the 20th century after reading The Pillars of the Earth, about a cathedral’s construction. Alas—there was intrigue and collusion in the construction process in the 1100’s and now there’s intrigue and collusion in the continued consideration of the cathedral’s role in the life of the town. Do we humans change? Do we grow? Is our consciousness evolving?

These are things on which to meditate.


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