Sunday, March 9, 2014

If you put your mind to it. . .

If traveling to India again felt like a homecoming, hoping over to Nepal was a departure into the unknown, this being my first time here. There's a special tingly excitement that rings through you when you know you're about to have a "first time" of any sort. First kiss. First day. First taste. First glimpse. There is no recreating that first. You are gifted that opportunity, and it is never to be had again.

That might seem a sad statement to some. But if I've learned anything from the spiritual wisdom I've been exposed to, it's the imperative value in making the most of every single moment, otherwise known as mindfulness. Being mindful and present for each moment gives you the gift of infinite first times. So while you may not experience that exact same tingle, you can choose to recognize and revere every first as unique and sacred.

The path of mindfulness is the path of the Buddha, and being here in Nepal where Buddhism is so very prevalent, interwoven gracefully with Hinduism, I feel particularly charged and plugged into mindfulness practices in a near effortless way. The sacred is non-different from the secular here in this corner of the world, which to me makes it much easier to have the clarity and presence of mind that truly allow for veneration of each and every moment.

Here monks and nuns weave through the crowds with tourists and locals, all of us going about our business while flowing along a common current. Morning time around Boudha Stupa, where I am staying, is a beautiful display of reverie. It's a parade of prayer beads, wheels and flags sending their vibrations out into the ether, Tibetan rites being performed, incense burning, offerings made, mantras chanted. This isn't a special occasion. It's not a holiday. It's everyday. It's life. And life IS sacred. Life is worthy of being present for. Yet so many of us are not.

I include myself in that "so many" much of the time because it is just so easy to go on autopilot. For instance, how many times have I walked or driven somewhere, glued to my phone or some other distraction, and literally not known how it is that I got from A to B? On how many occasions have I taken a loved one for granted, or not recognized a blessing that lays right before my eyes?

The other night as I was walking back to my hotel, I stepped outside and the first thing I did was gaze up between the buildings to the darkened sky, marveling at the brilliance of the stars. Kathmandu is a valley with its fair share of smog, so it struck me to see the night sky clear enough for such a beautiful display. The stars twinkled brightly and just about half a moon lit up the vastness. Then as I approached the Stupa, I stood for a moment to take a mental picture of how it looks lit up with candles against the near black backdrop of night, a stark contrast from its daytime facade of sun-drenched whitewash.

These were little firsts for me. I've never seen the stars from Kathmandu before and I may never again for all I know. Even if I walk out to the Stupa at the exact same time another evening, it simply will not and cannot be exactly the same as that night. In fact, tonight it is adorned with strings of electric lights, looking even more spectacular, though still not the same as that first time. Just being mindful of that fact imbues me with a sense of presence and gratitude that fills my heart.

Now the work is to be just as mindful of the mundane as well. Can I rise to the challenge of appreciating the sanctity of life's little moments when I'm not standing on holy ground under a breathtaking sky in a foreign country? Can I literally dance with joy over a hot shower and electricity on demand when I'm back in a place where both are readily available to me 24/7?

With mindfulness I know I can.

I've learned to cultivate gratitude as a practice, and as more time goes by, the more effortless giving thanks becomes. Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. When you are truly aware of the sacred blessings you are receiving every moment of every day just by simply being alive, how can you be anything other than grateful? Yet, while mindfulness fosters an all-encompassing gratitude, selective gratitude is not the same as all-encompassing mindfulness. That is the practice I seek to delve deeper into.


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