My mind is never quiet, never at peace, never “off line.” It’s always doing something–processing, dreaming, strategizing. It’s a level of activity that’s made me money and often leaves me in awe (I have come up with some amazing stuff out of nowhere.) But it also exhausts me, and sometimes even scares me a bit.
Because the truth is, my mind never shuts up. Ever.
So, the past few years I’ve been studying mindfulness and practicing mindfulness meditation in order to slow down the traffic a bit and find some moments of silence in my life. With a mind like mine, this has often felt like an exercise in futility.
At the most, while meditating I can keep my mind quiet for about ten seconds. Then I’ll start thinking about the fact that I’m thinking and I should really NOT be thinking. Then I’ll analyze why I’m thinking about not-thinking. Then I’ll start recalling articles I’ve read analyzing people who analyze their not thinking. Then, before you know it, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of interconnected thoughts about not having thoughts so deep it would send poor Alice straight to Wonderland’s loony bin.
The problem with mindfulness is that it’s hard, you never really know if you’re doing it right, and the rewards are not always easy to see. There is no guru sitting next to you saying, “Yes Grasshopper, you did it! YOU OWNED YOUR MIND! Now I will issue you a ‘mindfulness ninja’ badge to display on your blog.”
That’s why the pig was so important.
Well hello there, little guy
I met him about a year ago, on a trip to Arizona. My husband and I were walking down a street lined with restaurants, shops and galleries one evening as part of an art crawl. At one point, we walked past a particularly chic restaurant edged in twinkling Christmas lights, which was set back from the street and partially hidden behind some hedges. The restaurant had a veranda packed with bistro tables topped with white tablecloths and occupied by quiet couples enjoying the clear skies, artful ambiance and gourmet food.
As my husband and I walked past it, I noticed a woman tucked between the hedges in front, holding a leash. Clearly, she was taking her dog for a bathroom break. Not an strange thing to be doing, per se, but a little odd to be doing in front of such a high class establishment.
So, I squatted down to get a look at this very fancy dog who was doing its very fancy business in front of this very fancy restaurant. And, as I squinted through the darkness and the shrubbery, I quickly realized the dog wasn’t a dog at all. It was a pig.
A little thrown at first, I asked the woman holding the leash, “Is that a pig in there?” She informed me that indeed it was. So I asked if I could hold him, and she said, “Of course!” coaxed him out of the bushes and plopped him into my arms.
I stood under a streetlight and chatted with him (and her) for a bit, which eventually attracted a small crowd of people who also wanted to hold the pig. Eventually I passed him off to someone else’s arms and my husband and I made our way down the street again.
Why we don’t see pigs
As I thought about the experience later, I realized it was only because of my mindfulness practice that I noticed the pig (and the restaurant, the veranda, the tables, and the woman) in the first place. If I had been off in my thoughts letting my busy brain run my evening, I would likely have ignored the woman with the leash entirely or just thought to myself, “Oh hey, there’s a woman walking her dog” and continued on my way.
That’s what most of us tend to do when we’re walking down the street. We don’t really notice things like pigs unless someone holds one in front of our face. We’re more apt to be deep in our thoughts (like, “How come nothing interesting ever happens in my life?”) or so entranced with the content our phones (“Look at all of these people posting about their fun nights out on the town. Why is my night so boring?”) we don’t notice anything–pigs, people, packages, parks, plants, perfume, pools–and everything else in between.
Mindfulness not only requires you to maintain a presence in the world (“Hey, there’s a woman with a leash standing by a hedge in front of a fancy restaurant.”) it also requires you to maintain a curiosity about that presence (“What do you suppose is at the end of that leash?”) It transforms you into a kind of detective who is investigating the great mystery of “why am I here right now?”
Because I am more mindful, now I tend to have adventures wherever I go. I see pigs… and ladybugs, and flowers about to bloom, and children with big toothless grins smiling up at me from strollers, and people who are lost as well as those who are found, and a woman randomly walking down the street quietly sobbing, and the person who told me about something that most definitely DID NOT bother her (and then quickly looked away and blinked and in a moment told me that it not only did bother her, it was haunting her that very moment.) Now I see all of it.
In some ways, seeing everything is as challenging as thinking about everything. But it’s mostly better because now I have some space in my life. And in that space I have found perspective and peace and sometimes–if I’m lucky–even a little silence.