Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pay Attention

I am going to be 47 this October and I often have to stop to do the math to figure out my age.  I know that I am not unique in this regard; I vividly remember my mother and grandmother going through this same mental calculation when asked their age.  It seems that as we age we become more and more ageless despite the passing of every year.

As a young person I often felt that I had to figure it all out but who doesn’t?  I was in such a hurry to live life, make the right decisions, and achieve some kind of ideal.  Ironically and sadly, we miss a great deal of life at this speed and with this pressure. Our world, our educational system, our culture encourage a fast-paced, quick touch and go existence with very little room left for taking it all in, or space to just breathe and be.

When we are young, there is this imperative, this pressure to make perfect choices.  Paradoxically, growing older offers us a kind of relief and freedom; even as our time is diminishing we seem to have more space to really live. Today, my view is to make mindful choices and to remember to breathe before reacting, particularly to my children. 

In the home of a friend and fellow meditation practitioner I recently visited, a sign in her house caught my eye, “Pay attention.  Be astonished.  Tell about it.”  This stopped me in my tracks, a direct reminder to be in the moment, as much as I can remember to be.

Trips away from home and our families are also excellent reminders to pay attention and be in the present and they come sometimes just when we need to find ourselves again.  I had the recent good fortune to take a weeklong trip to Nova Scotia.  I hadn’t journeyed away alone for more than a weekend without family or friends since my fifteen month long backpacking trip to Europe in my mid-twenties in 1992.  I was feeling a mixture of anticipation, anxiety and adventure.  As a first time visitor to this Canadian Maritime, I imagined how I would find the world there, the food, the people, the environment, the landscape, the weather.  I conjured a place that felt, looked and tasted like somewhere between Maine and Ireland –the perfect blend of Celtic culture, traditional music, friendly people, and breathtaking landscapes. 

For over twenty-five years I had wished to visit Nova Scotia and my long dreamed of trip coalesced around two significant set of circumstances in my life at present.  First, I am a meditation practitioner and the path I practice, known as Shambhala, would be offering the next level of my training during a four day retreat in northern Nova Scotia.  The other circumstance around which my trip orbited was a new found love whom I had met in April on a family cruise vacation and would soon be relocating to Halifax.  That he wouldn’t be in Halifax while I was visiting or that the relationship was perhaps more fiction than fact, didn’t change the truth of the love I had felt while with him sailing in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. 

When we fall in love it is as if everything magically and alchemically falls together and is suddenly explainable.  Heretofore unexplained events, decisions and expenditures, including an expensive, completely out of my budget travel club membership purchase two years prior suddenly made perfect fiscal sense.  This membership led to my booking my family’s cruise and meeting this gentleman.  When we are in love, we seem to pay attention to everything and life seems brighter, clearer. I find myself smiling even wider at everyone, including perfect strangers.  Every moment is astonishingly precise, each experience incredibly direct and I want to share it all. 

The first leg of my journey would be my four day meditation retreat.  I arrived early to my retreat and took an hour to sit peacefully and quietly in the warm May sun.  I looked out toward the Northumberland Straight and Prince Edward Island as I stretched my tired body and limbs and did a few gentle yoga postures.  The four days were a reminder of how wonderful and refreshing it is to take a few days away from my daily routine, how meditation and contemplation during the retreat can penetrate the rest of my everyday life. 

As the retreat came to an end, I began to prepare for my leave with some regret and sadness as well a touch of doubt.  The moment had come to say goodbye to my new friends and fellow meditation practitioners so I could move onto the second half of my journey which would include staying three nights in a funky Halifax Inn where the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde had slept, walking around the city and taking a day trip to points south of Halifax.  I loved the drive along the south shore of Halifax and meandering along the coast through fishing villages.  The rugged, barren granite rock face along the ocean swept me away as I sat listening to the nearby waves swell and crash of the mighty Atlantic shrouded in fog but undeniably present.

As I courageously and gently took my leave from the safety and kindness of the retreat center to travel back south to Halifax, the teacher and I hugged, then hugged once more.  She reassuringly whispered a reminder in my ear the same words I read in my friend’s home, “Pay attention.”  Excellent words for no matter how things turn out….

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