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Mindful : June 2013
play The pressure we feel to be doing something, anything, all the time, is intense. reason), but these are also workmanlike activities—repetitive and isolating. It’s simply about staying busy, moving from task to task without respite. In fact, we ra rely let ourselves do any- thing wholeheartedly. Instead we waste time, feel bad about doing it, perhaps try to rationalize it—a nd that’s work, too. Suddenly we’re working at not working. We’re trying hard to do nothing. The hard part is to goof off mindfully. To, as Martin Luther said, sin boldly. I come by my own confusion about this honestly. I was raised by hard work- ers who didn’t waste time and didn’t suffer those who did gladly. Since my ea rly twenties, I’ve been practicing Zen Buddhism. Zen can seem very serious (go figure...we stare at walls, wea r black, a nd talk about death), and only in time did I discover how much play and wit there is in Zen. Beneath its surface I began to hea r sarcasm, irony, and profanity—the irreverence that is historically part of Zen. I was thrilled to see senior practi- tioners rela xing and playing—softball, cribbage, slip-and-slide. Goofing off. Zen reveres “beginner’s mind.” The beginner, whether she is learning to be an engineer, play golf, or practice mind- fulness, is fresh and naive. She has no expectations. She doesn’t know what she will be lea rning, who she will become, how she’s going to master what is before her. How ca n she have expectations? She doesn’t know. She’s a beginner—eager to be instructed, curious, ready. This is true readiness; we see it in children and long to remember it for ourselves. An importa nt aspect of mindfulness is becoming awa re of the obstacles you put in your own way. Mindfulness allows you to encounter each moment as it a rrives, aware of what’s going on around you and in your own mind. How much of your time is spent lost in thoughts of the past or future—or sideways, in all those other things you could or should be doing? What happens to your mind when you have nothing to do? When you are, in fact, goofing off. Can you bring the beginner ’s curious a nd open mind to that? Walking aimlessly through a meadow full of wildflowers is goofing off. Ga rden- ing is not. Not that there’s anything wrong with gardening. It’s just that there is no point in working in our garden if we can’t enjoy flowers that bloom all by themselves. Life can be profoundly moving, just as it is. Each moment can feel like a great investment. But we have to be careful not to crush a moment by revering it. The eminent theologian Alfred North Whitehead once said, “I have always noticed that deeply and truly religious persons are fond of a joke, and I am suspi- cious of those who a ren’t .” What do we really expect in a n accomplished person, one who seems integrated and awa re? One thing I look for is a graceful light- ness of being. I look for curiosity, interest in all kinds of things. I look for the ability to take pleasure in small things, and small moments, and be ridiculous a nd playful. Sallie Tisdale is the author of seven books, including Talk Dirty to Me. Her essays have appeared in such publications as Har per’s, Esquire, and The New Yorker. 62 mindful June 2013