She sits quietly, reverently. Almost solemnly. She picks up the mallet to invite the bell to ring. As she gently strikes the bell, I giggle. Out of the blue. I am tickled by the thought that we are playing mindfulness. Our playground is the Sangha, and sitting meditation is the game. We take our game seriously. When kids play hide and seek, they try to be super quiet, so that no one can find them. If they are discovered, they run as fast as they can back to base, before the seeker can tap them. And then they play again. And again. And again. There is no winning and losing, there is just playing.
We adults play mindfulness. We bow when we enter the room. We bow when we sit down, we bow when we get up. We bow when we serve tea. We bow when we drink tea. We bow to our teachers. We bow before we go home. We bow to our thoughts and label them “thinking”. We bow to our attention as we go back to our breath. We sit on a cushion and bow to everything that arises. To our entanglement in our thoughts, our presence, our breath. We bow in gratitude, and start over again when we’re lost. There is no winning and losing, there is just playing.
We once did a variation on this game. We were offered pen and paper and invited to write down our thoughts as they arose. I scribbled non-stop. “How much money do I have left?” “What is 38°F in Celsius?” “What should I write in my next blog?” Habitual thoughts, important thoughts, irrelevant thoughts.
My neighbor didn’t write down anything. I got anxious. Scribbling “I’m not mindful enough.” I got envious. Scribbling “My neighbor has a calm mind, and mine is stuffed with thoughts.” I got confused. Scribbling “Which game are we playing? Being mindful of whatever is present, or wining the competition of having the emptiest mind?” I giggle. There is something funny when games turn into competition. The fun is lost, there is just striving for winning. Scribbling “I rather have fun playing mindfulness, than be the best of my Sangha.”
My sister and I go way back. Well, of course: she’s 43, and I’m 48. We have always been close, sometimes struggled for connection, and again and again found the place where we enjoy our friendship. I have supported her to trust that her authenticity and vulnerability are strengths, and that when she honors her true self she can create the life she wants. She does. She is creating amazing results at work, beyond what I imagined possible.
Today I decided to offer something else than empathic listening for feelings and needs, and do a ‘just listening’ exercise. I invited her to bring her open heart and clear mind to the table, while I shared my feelings and physical sensations. If I would tell a story or share a thought, she could say “That’s a thought, not a feeling. What are you feeling?” After seven minutes we would shift roles.
She is open and adventurous and was up for the experiment. So we started. First me, then her. Seven minutes is a long time. Seven minutes sheer attention is quite something. It feels uncomfortable. I want to explain, I want to reassure. Without the stories, I feel naked. Nope. That’s a thought, not a feeling. What am I feeling? I don’t know. I am stuck in thoughts.
My whole life I wanted to be heard, I wanted to be seen, and now that I get full attention, I am scared. What will she think of me? Will she think I am a nut case? Will she think I am a nervous wreck? Will she laugh that the only feelings I have are fear in all it’s variations? Why is only fear coming up? Why don’t peace and calm come along? Fuck! Why don’t I have sweet and happy feelings? Why can’t I prove how mindful I am?
Then I calm down. It is like being on a boat on the river. We see this, we see that, we get stuck, we get unstuck, we go in loops, we float by. And there is just the being in the boat. Just watching, just observing. Just being. That’s it. It is not a listening exercise, it is a being exercise. Just being in the moment. Right here, right now, and enjoying whatever comes up. Or not. And accepting all of that.