By David Spangler
David's Desk is my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; however, the material is ©2019 by David Spangler. If you no longer wish to receive these letters, please let us know at info@Lorian.org.
The daughter of a close friend of mine spent several days in Antarctica filming a program for NOVA, the educational TV show. She shared with her mother, who in turn shared with me, her notes of what she was experiencing. Along with descriptions of her work and of the Antarctic landscape, her most frequent comments were about her need to be attentive. It was drilled into her by her trainers, the men and women who lived there in the science stations she was visiting, that the smallest mistake while out on the ice in temperatures way below freezing could be fatal. She had to cultivate mindful awareness at all times of what she was doing and how she was doing it Her life depended on it.
Reading the account of her experiences upon the ice got me thinking about the role of mindfulness in my own life. Happily, I do not live in Antarctica nor do I live under conditions where a lapse in attention or a small mistake could endanger or kill me. This is likely true for most of us. Yet, attentiveness is still an important quality to cultivate. Mindful awareness can certainly be a positive force in my life and in my relationships with my world.
Mindfulness is a hot topic these days. Schools are offering classes in it. Books about it proliferate. This is all to the good. I am grateful for anything that contributes to us being more aware and present in our lives, especially in this era of ubiquitous screens to divert and capture our attention from the real world around us.
At the same time, I admit to feeling that part of the current discussion about mindfulness comes up short, like teaching a golfer to keep her eye on the ball but never actually teaching her how to swing the club. For me, there’s a follow-through that often seems missing. Mindfulness, to me, is not simply being aware of what is happening in the immediate environment. Knowing where I am and what’s going on around me is only half the picture, though an important half, to be sure. The other half is discerning how to act towards what’s around me in positive ways, ways that bring benefit to whoever or whatever is in the field of my awareness.
To go back to my friend’s daughter, she didn’t have to be told to be aware that she was on the ice. That knowledge was in her face, so to speak. There wasn’t anything else but ice and snow. What she had to be mindful of was what she did on the ice, how she behaved, the actions she took. It was her relationship to the ice around her that was important, not simply the existence of the ice itself.
Similarly for us, the mindfulness of what we are doing in relationship to our environment in the moment is what is important. Yes, we want and need to be aware of what’s in this environment, the people, the creatures, the plants, the land, the human artifacts and technology, and so forth. But these things are always present in one way or another. They are our ice. What matters is how we relate to them. What matters is what we bring forth from within ourselves to add to or interact with whatever is in our environment.
This is important to me because, to use my friend’s daughter’s experience as a metaphor, we really are all surrounded by and walking on ICE: the Inter-Connectedness of Everything. The results of my actions are not necessarily limited in time and space to what takes place in my immediate environment. The kind act I do for a stranger, even something as simple as a smile or friendly greeting, can create ripples into the world that may make an important difference beyond what I can see. Conversely, the thoughtless act, the moment of indifference, negativity, even meanness, can cause the ICE to fracture. This is when we can fall through into a brokenness that affects us as much as it may affect another.
We all stand on a land we create and maintain together. To be aware of this deeper land of interconnectedness is important. But it’s not sufficient. We need also to be aware of what we do on it, how we interact with and affect each other. It is not simply a mindfulness of being present but of how we are being present to others and to the world. It is an awareness of whether our actions are thoughtful or thoughtless, for both have consequences. Our lives may not be at stake as it was for my friend’s daughter in the environment of Antarctica. But our mindfulness can make a difference as to whether we create and live in a world of wholeness or brokenness.
It is mindfulness of living on ICE.