In my 80s

December 30, 2018

Many thoughtful people remain silent until they have thought things through. In other words, they cogitate inside themselves. Others learn through verbal interchange, sometimes blabbing their way to sense. I lean more toward the verbal learner than the cerebral learner. One example of my typical mode of learning is what is going on right this moment. I wish to learn about mindfulness. Thus, I use my blog to chatter myself toward a fuller understanding of something that from a distance seems to be important.

A great way for me to learn about mindfulness would be to go to the Plum Village Monastery in southwest France, and sit at the feet of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. So happens that won’t happen!

However, there are alternatives. I know of people in my own community who have advanced in understanding and practice of meditation, some of it yoga related, some of it energy related. Resources are close by. And then, of course, the web and podcasts.

Several days ago I quoted a generic definition: “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” 

For a second go, I turn to Google’s definition which seems to focus of “where we are and what we’re doing.” It goes like this. “Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

A mindfulness movement leader Jon Kabat-Zinn offers this definition: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”

I enjoyed listening to my first podcast by Sam Harris, an American author, philosopher, neuroscientist, critic of religion, blogger, public intellectual, and podcast host. In listening to him, I realized that I am altogether uninformed of the therapeutic capabilities of mindfulness.

So I intend to blog my way to learning.

Today, for example, I tried to pay attention, on purpose, to the meandering of my thoughts. The day conveniently offered three distinctive sectors. In the first sector, I took a walk with my dog Rudy in Fort Harrison State Park. In the second unit, I printed a number of pages in a chapbook I hope to release in early February. In the third unit, I had to make a decision about attending an open house in honor of a recently married couple. Of course, my mind was meandering throughout the day, covering a vast territory.

But here are some thoughts I was aware of.

In Fort Harrison State Park: a chilly morning … early winter … heavy clouds, a colorless woods … Rudy doesn’t’t seem to like long walks …  the young people jogging are surely a happy chattery lot … haven’t seen any wildlife …

While printing: do I have the pagination right for the printer? … both sides, you know … am I really saving money by doing this myself?… low on ink — HP makes its money not on printers but on ink cartridges …

The open house: (Spouse) is downtown at work, can’t go with me … I don’t like going out nights now that I’m older … they are good friends, I owe it to them…

So I registered a few thoughts. Yet I am sure, totally sure, that disciplined mindfulness practitioners go much deeper, much closer. Surely many of my thoughts were about me, but I was not yet attentive enough to document them.

I gather that the mindfulness gurus teach methods to get close to one’s thoughts, acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.  I’ve a mind to learn those methods.

More later. Jump in if you’d like to comment.

In my 80s

December 29, 2018

A huge component of my own sense of well-being has to do with interactions with others. The nature of the pleasure relates directly to “thumbing a ride” in the experience of the other. Thoughts jump from me to them and from them to me on their journey be it a joyride or sober pilgrimage or painful trek. The experience of taking a trip on another’s journey is nearly always a positive experience.

One such experience occurred in Kansas. I sat in the kitchen with an aged widower whose family tried in vain to persuade him to move into a nearby senior center. We talked. I tried to listen and identify. Later I wrote about it.

A western window

I said should you move to a retirement center
and he said i won’t go to a nursing home nohow
i live in the house i grew up in may the lord take me
before i have to move out

I said but your needs would be supplied
and he said for eats i’ll fry eggs a farmer
dont need ironed pants and the bennings
boy can cut the grass

I said you’ll be safer there
and he said they took out the rugs
they belled me with a buzzer they took the keys
theyd just as soon be undertakers

Tell me, I said, why stay here
and he said we tots played tractor
in the sandbox pop put me on a
john deere at five and by twelve
i was hauling wheat
if they let me at 86 i’ll bale the alfalfa

You think you’ll be ok here tonight i said
and he said why the smell of a nursing home and
wheel chairs and sad eyes what would I do sitting
in a small room all day and not a western window


A western window shall always be vivid as is my appreciation for that human being.

In my 80s

December 28, 2018———

During my retirement and particularly in the past several years I have thought about and engaged the practice of paying attention. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, a cousin-concept has captured widespread attention: mindfulness. I wish to write about both concepts in today’s blog.

According to Mindful, an organization and website and magazine and membership, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

When I refer to paying attention, I mean the deliberate act of calling the entire body — that is, the five senses, all of the organs that we can control and our thoughts — to fix exclusively upon an object. By object I refer both to one’s own body and to any particular things outside of one’s own person. For example, yesterday’s blog featured visual concepts of large and small. When I take a walk, I must deliberately direct my attention to what seems to be large, and, conversely, what seems quite small to me. I must direct my eyes sometimes to the broad vistas out ahead of me and sometimes to look closely at a stone or bud or butterfly.

In considering both concepts — paying attention and mindfulness, I know that mindfulness is the more comprehensive and consequential act. I want to learn more and all the while practice mindfulness.

While much of my thought-package is random and seemingly out of control, I have practiced mindfulness (without heretofore using the term) in one specific setting — stopped at a red light. For a long time a red light seemed to set off a same package of haste, disgust, impatience, and even competition with other drivers. Somewhere along the line when I approached a red light I began deep breathing and slow counting. It’s now a regular practice, almost a habit. Since my mind is on the breathing and counting, it isn’t in free-fall into the cauldron of negative emotion I once experienced. 

I want to expand and extend mindfulness to many other aspects of my life, such as getting out of bed mornings, vacuuming the house (which I tell myself I don’t like to do), starting the car (I now am half way down the block before I fasten my seat belt), eating, encountering criticism and oh, the list is long. There are those who can tell you that I am by nature and habit quite absent-minded.

That’s enough for this blog, but you can expect more from me on mindfulness and paying attention.

In my ’80s

December 27, 2018

Life in general and daily routines in particular provide a myriad of opportunities to encounter what we consider large and what we deem to be small. It may be a truism that some folk see mainly the large, others see mainly the small. As a generalist, I tend to miss many small but significant cues. I now allow my camera to explore both ends of the spectrum.


Today, surely, both large and small will be accessible if only we pay attention.

In my ’80s

December 26, 2018

A quiet Christmas day at our house offered time and place, that is, wide open silence and emptiness, for what we usually can’t access — an opportunity to draw near to the mysteries that our five senses can’t reach.

I walked across the empty golf course, removed from the usual din of traffic. There and then I was in the presence of the seamless whole, the now and here of infinity. How easy it is to imagine the particulars, to bring humble characters — people and angels and animals and stars —into a simple story that reveals  what was, what is, and what will be. I am grateful that imagination can extend our reach beyond the five senses, that songs and pageants and paintings and sacred myths provide to us mortal human beings assurance that there is more, much more, much much more than we here can ever know.

Messages from across the way