January 15, 2019
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
This morning Father David gave the homily at Mass. Somehow, he derived from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus had the ability to “clearly see what was in front of him”. The idea was that Jesus could heal others because he simply recognized what needed to be done.
That sounded very Zen. Apparently, both Zen and Catholicism emphasize the value of a clear mind. In Zen this is sometimes referred to as a “beginner’s mind”, a mind that is free of the opinions and attachments that distort a person’s ability to perceive the world.
The only person I currently know with a beginner’s mind would be Weston, our three-week-old grandson. He has very few attachments at this point in his life. All he wants is warmth, love, food, and a clean diaper. To him everything in the world is new. Everything is interesting. Weston’s world is filled with wonder and awe.
Quite often, my world is not like that. This is strange because Weston and I both live in the same physical universe. Why is his world fascinating, and mine is sometimes tedious? The reason could be that Weston sees things as they are. He basically has no past, and he can’t imagine a future, so that little boy is totally in the moment. On the other hand, I have a long history on earth, and I have spent many years planning for an uncertain future. It is difficult for me to be here in the now.
Usually, something extraordinary has to happen for an adult to focus on the present moment. That could be gazing at the beauty of the Grand Canyon, or holding a newborn baby, or maybe getting run over by a forklift. I have had all three of those experiences, and each of them brought me immediately into the present. There is nothing like having your leg crushed by an eight thousand pound machine to cut through any extraneous prejudices. Reality suddenly becomes crystal clear.
Moments of clarity don’t always require a shock to the system. Sometimes they can be induced by meditation. Sometimes these epiphanies just happen. I was in the grocery store last week, rushing through the crowd to find some ingredients to bake a quiche. Then I stopped and looked around me. I was amazed by everything. I was fascinated by all the different kinds of vegetables. I was suddenly interested in all the other people that were shopping around me. The colors and sounds seemed brighter and more intense. The sensation didn’t last long, but it happened. For a brief time I was truly aware.
I’m an introvert, so it is easy for me to get lost in the labyrinth of my thoughts. I have to make an effort to look outside of myself. While I walked home from church today, I studied the bare trees (the oaks tend to hang on to some of their leaves). I listened to the hum and the crackle of the high tension wires carrying electricity from the power plant. I felt the cold west wind on my face. I smelled the faint scent of frying grease from a nearby McDonald’s. I noticed the broken shards of plastic on the shoulder of the road, probably from a long forgotten traffic accident. None of these things were really that important, but they exist. They were real to me.
I was aware.