“The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.” ~ Jean Cocteau.
April is National Poetry Month. I heard a challenge on the radio, to create a poem based on the numbers in your zip code. Each line should contain the same number of words as the numbers in your zip code. Ever since I heard this challenge I have been writing lines of poetry as I drive to work. Should the poem contain a reference to the city I live in? Should it capture the diversity, the good the bad, the natural and the man-made? This is hard to do with numbers like 3 and 0! But I tried. One morning I caught a glimpse of the sun behind me in my mirror. It was early, so the sun was not far above the horizon and it was golden. Golden light beams? Golden light behind? I have heard poetry contests announced before and I often try to compete. Of course like most of my writing I never actually make it to the submission stage. So this year would be different. I looked up the website and searched for the information to submit my poem. Alas, I was too late. The contest was last year!
But paying attention to your surroundings, to where you are right now, is a meditation in itself. They call it mindfulness meditation, the forced observation and awareness of your current surroundings. We are not good at this, we tend to spend our time thinking, worrying, anticipating future possibles. Or we rehash old events, replay old conversations, dig up old wounds as we stare backwards to our past. But by really paying attention to the here and now we make the most of our present, appreciate the actual instead of dreaming away our lives.
Buddhists tell us that suffering comes from wanting things to be other than they are. Contentment comes from accepting what is, from truly appreciating how amazing everything that we have. My father would say it a different way, and of course use a Bible verse to express it: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” – we don’t need to waste time worrying about what may be, let tomorrow take care of itself and focus on today.
It is unfortunate that we often do not appreciate what we have until it is taken away. Taking for granted is easily done. I have been observing at close quarters the many simple tasks that the body accomplishes each and every day. It is not until you watch someone struggling to breathe that you realize that breathing is not something you should take for granted! It is no surprise that most meditations begin with the command to focus on the breath. Take a deep breath in, and notice where the breath goes, then slowly let it out. We teach nursing students to recognize the fact that oxygen trumps (I apologize) everything – having an open airway, being able to take the air in, to pull oxygen into the blood stream comes above all else in life. And yet, we rarely pay our breathing any attention.
It is interesting that the word inspiration means to take air into the body, as well as meaning stimulation, and brilliance. It is also built around the word spirit; we well know that without breath, the spirit will leave the body. These were words created at a time when the body was not well understood, when science was in its infancy. Yet it was clear that when respirations ceased, the spirit was no more. Inspiring!
If the act of simple, controlled, observed breathing can be an act of meditation, it can also be a prayer of thanks, a silent chant of appreciation for the workings of the human body that keep us functional, healthy, and active. There are so many people in the world at this moment who cannot take simple bodily functions for granted. It is when our body betrays us, when it breaks down or fails to work as it should that we are forced to pay attention, to take steps to repair or protect. Yet if we started each day recognizing the value of health, and doing the things we should to maintain, to prevent, to keep things in running order, perhaps we could avoid some of the illnesses and disorders that sidetrack our lives. Of course there are diseases and disorders that we carry in our DNA, which may be unavoidable. But how can we manage these conditions to be as healthy as we can be?
This Friday morning I strongly recommend that you stop and be more thoughtful about the gifts that you possess, a heart that beats; lungs that exchange oxygen; internal organs that go about doing their business, regardless of whether you eat a healthy diet or not. Once in a while notice the acts that you do without thinking: walking, talking, and getting out of bed. Somewhere there is a person who wishes they could do that. Imagine you have to write a poem, and notice your surroundings. There may be beauty within your sight, just waiting to be appreciated. And as you go along your way, give thanks.
Golden light behind
Glowering clouds ahead.
South Floridans read the signs:
Rainy day; should stay in bed.
Have a wonderful weekend Family! Celebrate your accomplishments! Take care of your body! Listen to the messages, and give thanks for life.