I love what author Sameet Kumar writes toward the end of his book, Grieving Mindfully: “Mindfulness helps you to feel the preciousness of life by heightening your experience of each passing moment. It is these fleeting moments that form the building blocks of your awareness of life. Breathing in, aware. Pausing. Breathing out, aware.”
After finishing the book just now, I walked over to our unit to get a cup of coffee, and halfway there I noticed an ear-irritating sound. My right shoe squeaks, apparently. I haven’t worn this particular pair of shoes in a year or so. But there it was, loud and clear in the quiet hallway: criiick, criiick, criiick, criick. I tried tilting my foot to one side to stop the squeak. That didn’t do it. I tried the other side. Up on my toes, back on my heel. I considered taking the shoe off and walking the rest of the way without it.
Then, a thought: “Can I be mindful and just let it be?”
So much of what sends us running away from the present moment is our belief that something is going on here that shouldn’t be. We resist, we dodge, we avoid, we deflect. If I can’t be present with this uncomfortable thing (whatever it is), I will go somewhere else–into the past or future, into worries or daydreams or other things that aren’t here.
Can I just be with criick?
I tried it. It was hard. My jaw tightened. My ears were super-sensitive to the sound. I felt my annoyance like a knot in my stomach. I wanted to go apologize to every person I walked past and say, “This dumb shoe!” (But I was also equally certain that nobody heard it but me.)
What’s hard about just being present with this kind of irritating, go-away thing is that instead of mindfulness making the moment easier to bear, it actually magnifies all the things I wanted to run away from. I didn’t want to feel irritated over something so silly. I wanted to just take it in stride (pun intended) and let it roll off. But instead, I felt my stomach tighten. I fought my impulse to distract myself. I listened to the sound, on purpose. Could I imagine it was a cricket? (No, that’s still leaving.)
The hope and the promise of mindfulness is that by not leaving and choosing instead to stay awake to my discomfort, I learn more about what triggers me, experience a sense of self-support, and find that I can stay here and feel it (whatever it is). All will be well.
Just feel it, I decided. Let it be awful, if it is. It sucks that my shoe squeaks and that in that simple, innocent sound, it exposes my vulnerability to the uncontrollable nature of life.
But there it is. That’s what I’m fleeing when I run to the past or the future. Sometimes stuff happens. Sometimes it’s not what I want. Sometimes I can just be with it as it is, in real time, awake and annoyed and present.
And of course squeaky.