a chapter of Mindfulness Ontario
One of the attitudes we cultivate to enhance our being mindful is that of not “striving” – whenever possible and appropriate, not working to achieve a particular outcome from an experience. I relearned this attitude when I attended my son’s graduation.
I grew up in a household where university education was highly thought of. I appreciated and enjoyed mine, and my wife and I very much encouraged our “kids” to get a degree. When our son was about to graduate from Laurier University, we were very enthusiastic. As the day approached, I set out my camera to take on the trip to Waterloo. While no great shakes as a photographer, I regarded this as an “important family occasion’ which warranted a good photograph.
The ceremony took place in a gymnasium to accommodate all of the graduating classes. My wife and I went up to the balcony for a better view. We found seats in the third row, and surveyed the gym. We found Andrew on our side about twenty rows from the stage. So, he would presumably walk up the centre aisle, climb the steps and walk across it to where the Chancellor would give him his graduation diploma. I could see “the event” in my mind’s eye, and in the photograph I was planning. I went to the front of the balcony and started to adjust the camera’s focus and other settings to be ready when the moment came.
As I stood there, however, anticipating the time when he would cross the stage, I began to realize what I was doing. “Doing” was the operative word. I was attending my son’s graduation. Attend means “to be present at”. While I was, indeed, physically present, I was not mentally there for the pending ceremony. I was totally immersed in “doing” – very intently planning how I would “capture” this important event to create a paper image of it for future viewing.
So, instead, I returned to my seat, put away my camera and “attended” the coming event. As I waited, I reflected on Andrew’s years at Laurier - the program and classes he had chosen, the friends he had made, the extra-curricular activities he’d enjoyed, his plans for the coming year; and my happiness for him.
When his class was called, I watched him walk up the aisle, cross the stage, and receive his diploma. I took it all in and enjoyed every moment. And, afterwards, what was the result? No, I didn’t have a photograph to look at or show anyone. What I had created was much better, a memory of the whole event that I can call up and enjoy at a moment’s notice. Not just a memory of what my eyes recorded but also a memory of my very pleasant thoughts and feelings prior to the ceremony - because I’d focused on the occasion itself rather than what I could get out of it.
Moment-to-moment awareness is simply being where we already are. “Being” and noticing rather than “doing” and perhaps not noticing. When we focus on the end result we usually miss out on what’s happening along the way. Of course, there are many situations in which we have to be “goal-oriented” in order to achieve our objectives. But, I find that I can enjoy more of each day if I am somewhat skeptical of a striving attitude. In particular, I try to avoid regarding my current ‘task’ – whatever it is - as something to “get done”. If I did that all the time, what could I reflect upon when I’m nearing the end of my life? That I “got it done”? I’d much rather reflect on the fact that I “lived” every experience as much as possible, and had many interesting or enjoyable memories to call to mind. Like Andrew’s graduation.