Sunday, April 15, 2012

Harry Chapin's Lesson in Minfulness

This is one of those instances when I'm learning but haven't got it figured out. So take what I say as the words of someone still in process.

Yesterday I attended a minfulness mediation retreat. Great stuff that has helped get me back into a mindful habit that is making me happy. I call it mindful driving even though I used to call it hyper-miling.

A few years back when gas spiked to four dollars a gallon, NPR reported on people who were hyper-miling. They were stretching their gas mileage to the extreme. It isn't impossible to take a reasonable car for forty miles on a gallon of gas. I couldn't do it with a giant SUV but I don't have one and for just that reason. I can easily get my subcompact to 40 mpg with just a bit of awareness. So I did. I went 55 on the highway and worked it so that I rarely used my brakes. It worked and it made me a safer driver. I was focused on what I was doing and what was happening up the road.

It was around this time that I gave up texting while driving. Thank goodness.

Now, with gas back up around four dollars and me in a mindful meditation class, I have gone back to some of the tenets of hyper-miling with a dash of mindfulness.

I drove to Wegmans today mindfully. I took it slow and tried to be in the moment. I left the radio off, glided at 30 mph instead of speeding, and let people in my lane when they wanted to come over. I watched the road and tried to concentrate on the act of driving instead of making lists of the things I needed to do later.

Oh, and I left my phone at home. Turns out that I don't need it at the supermarket. Go figure.

I'm not saying that I'll always leave the radio off, but it was relaxing to do so today. It's not that I won't ever speed, but it felt calming to go slowly. Just taking the time to drive there without hurry, without thinking about what was to come or what was behind, was a pleasure.

There's an old Harry Chapin song with this line in it: "It's got to be the going not the getting there that's good" and as corny as that sounds, it's true. I spend most of my life thinking of destinations but rarely arrive. I am instead almost always in the process of going.

All of this was reinforced this week when I hiked down into the Grand Canyon. Despite all the warnings, I dreamed of touching the Colorado River. I wanted to dip my toe in it and only then turn around. I couldn't imagine going all that way and not completing the hike. That's where my thinking was foolish.

In the process of trying to get to the destination, I missed some of where I was: The Grand-Freaking Canyon! Not a place to miss, but that's what destination-thinking gets me. Fortunately, my friend turned us around four and a half miles into the hike. Going back up, I noticed how light I felt and it wasn't that I had shed my backpack. I was no longer burdened with the goal of having to reach the river. Instead, I was in the Grand Canyon, absorbing every step.

The going, when I chose to experience it, beat the hell out of any getting there.

The trip across Syracuse to Wegmans is no hike through the Grand Canyon, but the idea is the same. And the lesson applies to drinking my coffee, eating a couple chocolate chips, playing with my dog, talking with my children, and gently kissing my wife's beautiful face. It's all about being there and not rushing to be somewhere else. It's like writing. I'm in this sentence word for word as I write and write. Being aware of the pleasure of putting words into sentences and paragraphs and essays is better than the finishing. That's why I write on.