Radiant and Wretched (Pay Attention)

by Mark Chmiel

“There’s plenty of time in this day”
Who would claim that
And risk setting off a cacophonous chorus of groans?
“There’s never enough time
To get done all the things I have to do—
never, never, never, never!”
People say it with woe
Bitterness
Resignation
That. It’s. Always. Gonna. Be. This. Way.
Multitasking is a dead end too
Maybe I can check off those to-do’s
But what was the quality of the act?
Quality = value

There’s plenty of time
In just this moment
I write line after line
I’m not going to judge these lines
All there is to do
Is to be present
With this pen and notebook
It’s not going to benefit suffering humanity
It’s not going to earn me a cent
It’s not highly esteemed as far as Cristina’s oft-repeated New Year’s rezzes

But it is training in being here now
I’ve known many teachers of attention:
Ram Dass
Sri Eknath Easwaran
Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s all so very simple
But the mind contains tornadoes
Looking out from the Kings’ third floor balcony
I thought of the first chapter of the Dhammapada:
As a strong wind blows down a weak-rooted tree,
Mara the Tempter overwhelms weak people who,
eating too much and working too little,
are caught in the frantic pursuit of pleasure.
As the strongest wind cannot shake a mountain,
Mara cannot shake those who are self-disciplined and full of faith.

I pay attention when I am writing like this in silence
It is meditation
It is mindfulness
It is noticing what I notice
It is catching myself thinking
Like just now Eileen McGrath Mosher came to mind
I notice how I think of her at random times
I remember what I message her: “I miss you”
I remember what she messages me: “Miss you”
I imagine her driving up and down
Some Cincinnati hill in spring
Two kids in the back in car seats
The front passenger seat empty

I won’t say my notebooks lately have been full of her
But she is  on my mind
Even when I look at my phone
I associate it with her
(Trying to text her to come back
To the ICU at BJH)
Radiant and wretched she is
And how present she is—
To her children
So happy to be back in their old house
and the routine of going to school
To herself—feeling the feelings of gratitude by day and agony by night
How present she is to me
Even 350 miles away
With one sentence from her
I feel I could reach out my hand
And touch her

She too is a teacher of attention
How to be in the moment
When at school
When on the road
When at meal-time
When at dawn
When at 10 p.m.

I wrote her earlier this week
“You’re a walking
Breathing
Smiling
Miracle—

A bodhisattva
In the present moment”

 

–from spring Writing Improv Wisdom class
On the maxim, “Pay Attention”
DeMun Avenue, Clayton

Dhammapada translation by Eknath Easwaran

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