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Mon, Dec. 09

Piacenza: The blessing of ‘just being’

You may have noticed that essays written during the holiday season often begin with gratitude for a familiar litany of material things, relationships with family and friends and the freedoms we enjoy in our country. All good things to be sure, but all, if looked at from a certain angle, with a downside. Our desires for cars, homes, warm yet fashionable clothing and food in abundance are rarely satisfied fully: there’s always the next good thing to want and work for. Relationships, although perhaps the most enriching part of life, often come with interpersonal challenges: misunderstandings, jealousies, conflicting ideas and goals. Our American legacy of freedom comes with numerous ideas about how to protect it and who should be included.

Ticking off the boxes next to a list of stuff most people have and enjoy is one way to count our blessings. It’s reassuring to know we haven’t been left out of the bounty of the mainstream, and even have enough to share with those who have been left out. However, I believe there’s a deeper level of gratitude we are all able to experience. This gratitude isn’t tied to financial stability, familial love, loyal friends or personal rights. In fact, this gratitude is discovered only when the sugarplums of our possessions, relationships and great ideas have stopped dancing in our heads.

Have you ever had that odd moment when the leaves scuttering in circles on the street, the slow blink of a cat on your lap or the soundless swoop of a distant hawk catches you unawares? So brief and yet so distinct that you are totally taken into the moment, without judgment or mental narration? There YOU are and there are the wind and the leaves, the warmth of the cat, the impossible grace of the wing. I believe that in those moments, we experience just BEING. In those moments we can be profoundly aware that we are not our possessions, our power to control or even the things we love.

I’ve found that it’s possible to encourage the bookkeeper of the mind to take occasional vacations from the debits and credits of life. Some call it meditation, some mindfulness, some contemplative prayer. As I practice more, I notice that my days are more often sprinkled with these little doors into mental stillness. If I stop and pay attention, I am gifted with a peaceful sense of what is without my usual judgement of good or bad.

How does my focus shift from the usual ping-pong of thoughts and concerns to a wordless experience? Looking at words printed on a page, we naturally focus on them, without a thought about the white background of the paper they are written on. Similarly, we naturally focus on the outward blessings and challenges of our lives, letting them automatically define the shape of our background state of mind.

But what if it were possible to consciously shift the focus to the background, to “just being” ? In meditation, mindfulness or contemplation, we are practicing that shift of focus. When I lean into the feeling of “just being” in my daily life, I’m less inclined to judge and react to events and (though they are sometimes “in disguise”) more inclined to see them as blessings.

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