It is these moments in time when the velocity and automatic-pilot processes of interpreting and judging the messages, people, and events around us, is forced to slow down. Somewhere deep in our psyches, we know the difference between right and wrong somewhat instinctively. To live by that inner guide is just too straightforward for us as humans, though. We don’t operate by instinct; we have the natural privilege of being capable of reflection and many layers of choice. And we have identities that depend on certain routines of interpretation in order to be maintained. They may not even be conscious, but they drive our interpretive processes and drive our choices and actions, they shape our words so that as varied as they might be, they culminate in scripted messages we repeat again and again and again.
Then something happens to disrupt the habituated symbiotic and often competitive patterns. Then something happens that jars our hypnotic state of everyday ‘attention,’ almost like waking us up; we are jarred, momentarily disoriented, needing to refocus and get a sense of where we are–and what is going on.
We want to rush into discussions of what has happened and why. The media clocks keep ticking and airtime must be filled, our conversations call for words to fill the uncomfortable silences. We know that something dreadful has happened while we’ve been preoccupied with the routine perceptions and predictable ‘interpretive’ dances we call our daily lives. We call for a change, we beg for attention to ‘what really matters.’ We try to articulate what this is in some instances; over time we can anticipate this–family, relationships, our health, ability to eat and breathe and love. Stop the madness, we cry. It’s time.
The society around us spins so madly and rapidly that the machines of our creation wield great power over our ability to stop the wheels from turning again. We take breaks, we pray, we pay attention to each other and what we are doing. What was irritating us before seems minor, and we enjoy holding a hand, looking at a flower, hearing each other laugh or cry.
We know this is right. We know this is humanity at its natural best. We vow to live differently; we agree on these things.
It is at these times that some element of the mindfulness a sudden jolt such as a tragedy or crisis or act of terror brings into our lives begs us to preserve it in our hearts. Today, as I practiced silent yoga in the Phoenix Bikram studio, the owner of the studio came in just before we began our practice. “Gabrielle Giffords was a friend of mine…offer your breathing to her and the others today…” In silence, we breathed in the value of that simple effort and exhaled our hope and belief for the next 90 minutes.
We breathe daily; I’d like to think I can learn to breathe mindfully so that I won’t forget this time. This time, I’d like to honor those who’ve paid for these little wake-up calls. This time, I’d like to be who I have the potential to be–and remember it’s in all of us, all of the time, if we’d only be willing–just a little–to let go of who we think we are and what we think we need to prove. It is something we hear a lot right now–that this was one of the things that makes Gabrielle Giffords such a decent, and powerful, human being.