Giving up our obsessions can bring us life. Or death.
As someone who pays a bit of attention to the “self-care” game – not to be confused with the self-stimulation game (sorry to disappoint, wankers) – I am mindful that the term “mindfulness” is omnipresent these days. Which gives me a mind to never use that shopworn buzzword again, unless I’m making sport of someone who does.
Not that I have anything against the Father of Mindfulness, Thích Nhất Hạnh, who must have been doing something right, having passed just this year at the tender age of 95. In his 1975 treatise, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Nhất Hạnh explained it as such:
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not ‘washing the dishes to wash the dishes.’ What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
Rereading this, it strikes me that Nhất Hạnh got a lot more out of scrubbing caked-on, baked-on grease than I do. I tend to stack my dishes in the sink, (mindfully) leaving them for my wife to clean up later. (Don’t worry, you’re not alone – she also hates me for writing that sentence.) But I’d expect him to raise dish-washing to a metaphysical plane, since he was, after all, a Zen monk. It’s kind of right there in the job description. It’s much harder to rise to that level when you’re a mere grubby scribbler/international sex symbol/husbandman of prosaic truths.
And yet, as a habitual fly fisherman, I am all too aware of trying to arrest the moment by fully inhabiting it. For those seconds or minutes after a hook-up, when pure dancing electricity is coursing from the fish, through your line, and into your hand, the clock doesn’t stop so much as cease to exist. It is time outside of time. Perfect time. If all of life could be lived in that moment, I’d pitch camp there and no Department of Natural Resources officer could ever drag me away. For even if the fish is unspectacular - just a dink - you’ve still tapped into something beautiful and natural and wild. Three properties that are in both shrinking supply and demand nowadays, as most of modern life seems to be about taming or enhancing the artificial, from intelligence to land to lips.