To Those Who Listen, All Are Teachers
“I would sit,” she offered unapologetically, “uncomfortable in my own skin, and think to myself that it would be worth the suffering because when I finished, I’d be happy. Like I was going to get this reward for suffering through it, for being tough and pushing through it. That’s what I thought meditation was. But I wasn’t really listening.”
These words from an absolute stranger, as I sat across from her on a hard metal stool at a cramped charging station in a somewhat undiscovered corner of a very busy LAX. I was on a 3 hour layover in the middle of an odyssey trek taking me from Paris to Hawaii, with a requisite canceled flight, a ten hour wait for the next plane out, and a night in city I had not planned to visit, all this while nursing the first (and worst) chest cold I’d had in many, many years. Good grief.
My phone and computer needed a boost so I made my way around the airport, looking for a charging station. Most were completely full. Then, I found one. “Mind if I plug?” I had asked.
“Not at all,” a woman said with a smile that seemed more welcoming than tolerating. Effortlessly, we struck up a casual conversation, which sparked her comments above.
My new friend continued: “But then I realized ‘I’m missing the goddamn point, aren’t I?’ It’s the breath, and being in each ordinary moment, that is the reward,” she said with the simple wisdom of a brazen Buddha. “Jon Kabat-Zin taught me that.”
She had my attention now.
It’s been said that to those who truly listen, all people become teachers. At this moment, in this distracting environment, I was glad I was listening.
I was happy to hear her speak, as I needed to reconnect to something deeper after spending so much time with my mind externally focused. Travel can be a divine distraction, and I like to think of it as its own form of meditation. Mindfulness is required, as the smallest mistake can mean missed trains or lost luggage or worse.
I had really enjoyed the freedom of letting it all go for a while, leaving my teacher’s cap back at the ranch, so to speak, and just taking in the world around me. But I had let go of my daily routine, and it was time to return.
Now fully charged and smiling, I packed up my things and said my goodbye. I wandered around the crowded airport until I found an area a bit less chaotic. I sat down, put away all my electronics and closed my eyes. I softened the muscles of my shoulders, and then I softened my face. I started to listen.
In today’s information age, it seems many people need or want to shut down their senses from sheer overload. But the information age is calling us to a more elegant level of awareness. It’s about fine-tuning our ability to listen, to take in what is meaningful. It’s also about letting the nonsense float by without any attachment or investment. This is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is listening—with all our senses. For anyone on a spiritual path, mindfulness is the primary meditation in life. It’s not something we have to “get through.”
It’s about listening to what we see, to what we feel in our gut, and to what we hear around us and certainly within us. It’s about learning how we take these sensations in, then, “listening” to how they affect us. Life itself is the great meditation, is it not?
Every moment, we receive a constant and steady flow of information and signals from our bodies, from our immediate environments, and from our intuition. But with all the distractions of this modern information age, these signals and messages can be easily muddled.
My suggestion? Get tuned in to your own divine, remarkable, ordinary life right now. Wherever you are, take a moment to close your eyes and listen. Listen to the wind blowing in the trees. Listen to coworkers working, the keyboards clacking. Listen to your current day’s mind chatter, and more importantly; listen to quiet yearnings of your heart.
As you practice listening, savor it all, and see the world as though through the eyes of a child. Let the nonsense float by, and allow yourself the freedom to be astonished by the ordinary.