The Intense Attention of Mindfulness

I just finished a great book, “The Curse of Chalion”, that was not only a great read in the “speculative fiction” (fantasy) genre, but had a lot of bonus spiritual insights. The following quote is one of those.

Cazaril’s attention was arrested by a pebble that lay on the pavement near his knee. It was so dense. So persistent. The gods could not lift so much as a feather, but he, a mere human, might pick up this ancient unchanging object and place it wherever he wished, even into his pocket. He wondered why he had never apprecaiated the stubborn fidelity of matter. A dried leaf lay nearby, even more stunning in its complexity. Matter invented so many forms, and then went on to generate beauty beyond itself, minds and souls rising up out of it like melody from an instrument … matter was an amazement to the gods. Matter remembered itself so very clearly. He could not think why he had failed to notice it before. His own shaking hand was a miracle, as was the fine metal sword in his belly, and the orange trees in the tubs–one was tipped over now, wonderfully fractured and spilling–and the tubs, and the birdsong starting in the morning, and the water–water! Five gods, water!–in the fountain, and the morning light filtering into the sky…

Cazaril ignored it all, taken up with his pebble again. He wondered where it had come from, how it had arrived there. What it had been before it was a pebble. A rock? A mountain? Where? For how many years? It filled his mind. And if a pebble could fill his mind, what might a mountain do? The gods held mountains in their minds, and all else besides, all at once. Everything, with the same attention he gave to one thing. He had seen that, through the Lady’s eyes. If it had endured for longer than that infinitesimal blink, he thought his soul would have burst. As it was he felt strangely stretched. Had that glimpse been a gift or just a careless chance?

This, to me, is a wonderful description of what “mindfulness” is supposed to be. Being intensely aware of a single thing, and not just of the thing, but of where it came from, what it affects … where does this one thing fit into the great web of interbeing? In meditation this is one of the reasons you might concentrate on your breath. It’s not just to feel yourself breathing, but to be intensely aware of the air moving in and out of your body. There are meditative exercises that make it feel like the universe is breathing you, instead of you breathing the air (and of course that might be how it works ;)). When you do walking meditation, you relate to the earth beneath your feet in a much different way that you do when you are walking normally.

Of course, formal meditation is just the practice so that we can learn to live each moment that way, not just while on the cushion. We also practice so we can extend our awareness beyond the breath and beyond a single thing, on to all things.

Mindfulness of this sort reminds us that every thing, and every moment, is a miracle. Endeavor to take nothing for granted.

“The Curse of Chalion” (Lois McMaster Bujold)

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