Presence of Mind

These is much talk these days of “mindfulness,” of “living in the now.” I’ve done some of that talking myself, here on this very page. We are all so busy, it seems, wearing our busy-ness like a badge of honor, teaching our children the dubious virtues of a “full life” with teams and lessons and after school study groups. And yet in the midst of all that productive busy-ness, something is amiss. We become aware of a gnawing emptiness, a feeling that surely there is more than all this running to and fro. During the past few weeks, I’ve been given many opportunities to be mindful and to live in the now, opportunities to practice paying attention and appreciating small moments.

Opportunities to be patient and present.

This gift (for I am calling it a gift, even though at first it seemed to be anything but - which is so often true of these kinds of gifts) began when one of my dogs became seriously ill. The details don’t matter, and he is doing fine now, but he was hospitalized for several days in a specialized veterinary hospital about 40 miles from our home. His doctor was the soul of kindness and compassion, combined with an obvious intelligence about the internal workings of the canine body.  He called me three times each day that Magic was in the hospital, giving me an update on current conditions and his treatment plan going forward.

One of our biggest concerns was that Magic wasn’t eating, had not been eating well for some time. I had been trying everything at home to entice his appetite, mostly to no avail. I would cajole and prod, but he only turned his head away at each proffered bite. I got frustrated.

On Friday evening, Dr. Becker calls me at 7:00 p.m. with some good news, that Magic has eaten at last. “I’ve been sitting with him for about an hour,” Dr. Becker tells me matter-of-factly, “coaxing him along, and he finally showed some interest."

My sense of relief was quickly followed by a sense of wonder. Imagine that this doctor, a man who surely is “busy” in every sense of the word spent an hour of his time on a beautiful summer evening coaxing my little dog to eat.

Such patience.

Suddenly all my striving, my agitation, my bluster and hurry seemed so silly. What was the rush? especially when most of my days are my own to fill or not as I choose? My dog, whom I love and who has given me 12 years of loyal faithfulness and joy, surely deserved better than my irritated impatience when he didn’t eat the food I provided for him. What is time for, if not to be lavished on what we love the most?

Magic is home now, and his feeding time has become my exercise in patience and presence. I sit on the floor, offering very tiny bites of things that will tempt him - roast beef, cheese, a little salami or ham. He is reluctant at first, he still needs coaxing, needs quiet attention paid and some gentle urging. But finally he will accede to one bite, one little morsel, followed by another, and then another, until the plate is clean.

I remain present, there on the floor beside him. I stop thinking about the phone calls I need to make, the kitchen remodeling I want to do, the book that needs editing, the music I should organize. I practice patience.

It seems to me that much of our drive to be busy is born from fear. We’re afraid we’ll miss opportunities to experience something wonderful, to create the next big thing, to enjoy life as it was meant to be.  We worry we don’t accomplish all that must be accomplished in order to have the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect garden. We’re greedy - we want to gobble ravenously, when perhaps we should nibble decorously. Yet we say we must learn to be mindful, we must try to live in the now, adding those things to our already long lists of things to accomplish when we have more time.

But here’s the thing. We DO have time. Time is, in fact, all we have. This time, this minute. There is no guarantee about what comes next. Take your minute - one or two or nine million, however many you’re lucky enough to be given. Sit down and savor them.

Why worry so much about having it all, when really, you already do?

Feed your dog from your hand.