Thursday, June 3, 2010

Today's Moment - Being A Tourist in My Own Town

One of the things I love most about hosting out of town visitors is the opportunity to see my city through their eyes.  I just spent a couple days showing some American friends around, and many of the sights I take for granted became new to me again through their exclamations of admiration.  I also got to re-visit beautiful places that I tend to forget about until it's time to play tour guide - like the Fourvière Basilica with it's stunning views of the city, and the nearby gallo-roman amphitheater built in 15 BC which blows my mind every time I think about the Romans watching plays there two millenia ago.  The theater is partly in ruins, but much of it is in good enough condition to host a concert series every summer:

With my friends in tow I also took on a tourist attitude, and allowed myself to do things that tourists do and I don't - like have an ice cream on the Place des Terreaux, or a drink on the barges that dock along the Rhône river.  These places are of course way over-priced for what you get, which is why I'm such an infrequent customer.  But you're paying for the pleasure of hanging out in one of the most beautiful plazas in France, next to the famous Bartholdi fountain (by the same sculptor who made the statue of liberty) and surrounded by architectural gems like the fine art museum and the ornately gilded city hall.  I cut through the plaza on my bike all the time, only sometimes noticing it's loveliness, but I never linger.  Same with the barges on the Rhone - I pedal by them quite often on my way to somewhere else, but rarely allow myself the simple pleasure that is having a drink on the deck of a boat while watching the river flow by below.

Lyon's ornate city hall on the Place des Terreaux:

In fact I realized these past few days that I almost never walk around Lyon, since I'm always on my bike - even more so now because at 8 months pregnant, cycling (albeit slowly) is actually much easier than carrying around the weight of my big belly!  But in cycling I miss out on the famous French tradition of 'flânerie.' It's hard to translate directly - the dictionary says to stroll or saunter.  But it's more of an attitude - walking slowly, just to enjoy yourself, with no particular destination in mind.  It's actually a pretty zen-like way of doing things, the idea being that the journey itself is much more important the the destination.  And it's something I have a hard time with.  Even with the aforementioned heavy belly, I was still rushing along ahead of my friends, just thinking about what I was going to show them.  While they were just sauntering along, appreciating their surroundings in the true French tradition of flânerie. 

So I taught my friends the verb 'flâner' and congratulated them on their mastery of this fine French art.  Then I decided that I needed to take a lesson from both the tourists (at least the ones who stroll, since many are in a hurry to see as much as possible) and the French.   I'm going to try to slow myself down (yes, even on my bike) and really be mindful about where I am - especially now that I'm on maternity leave and have no reason to rush anymore.  I want to notice and appreciate the beauty that is around me, without waiting for visitors to remind me to look around. 


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coming Back to Mindfulness

I haven't written in a long while, wrapped up in my little pregnancy bubble, focused on acquiring information and just gestating, as it were.  I also had the idea that I would start another blog just about pregnancy and parenting issues, since they seemed off-topic for the mindfulness blog I intended this to be. 

But I recently came across a couple of books that have helped to remind me that it's all connected. The first is called "Momma Zen:  Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood,"  by a Zen Buddhist priest named Karen Maezen Miller.  It was truly inspiring, with lots of short, easy-to-read vignettes full of great insights into parenting as an endless series of opportunities for spiritual practice.   I also just started "Mindful Motherhood:  Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Childbirth" by Cassandra Vieten.  I haven't gotten very far yet, and so far it seems geared more towards people who are new to mindfulness.  But her suggestions about incorporating moments of mindfulness into daily life whenever you can will certainly become all the more vital once the baby comes and I'll have a lot less free time.  

More than anything, these books made clear that my spiritual practice is fed by whatever is happening in my life in 'this moment.'  For example, I attended my first retreat at Plum Village in large part to deal with anger, and have continued to practice in Thich Nhat Hahn's tradition with a local sangha in order to find more calm and clarity.  One of the outcomes of my practice was finally being able to take the decision to make a baby, after years of uncertainty and doubt.  And we actually conceived after I returned from a 2-day mindfulness retreat, peaceful and present.

So my pregnancy is a direct result of my previous spiritual practice, and has now become my current spiritual practice - though I didn't realize that until recently.  I was actually feeling a bit down on myself for not meditating much anymore, since I haven't been attending the Tuesday meditation sessions that are just too late at night for me now. And I haven't sat on my cushion much these past few months either. 

But part of what's interesting about pregnancy is that it's so physical, so embodied.  At Plum Village they use a mindfulness bell to bring you back to the present moment - each time you hear the bell (or a phone, or a clock chiming) you pause and come back to your breath for a count of 3.  While I haven't been using a bell myself, I do have a very active baby inside of me who keeps bringing me back to the here and now with one breathtaking kick in the ribs.  I'm not consciously choosing to practice mindfulness with him, but the little guy doesn't let me get away with being elsewhere for very long.  When he reminds me of his presence, he brings me back to the present.  And the present moment is both wondrous and miraculous, and sometimes even a little bit freaky. Each and every one of his wiggles and kicks is exciting, no matter how uncomfortable; as well as reassuring, since it means he's doing well.  And I'm still awestruck (and a bit weirded out) whenever I actually see him undulating under my skin like some kind of alien invader straight out of a sci-fi movie.  I never get tired of seeing and feeling him move, which keeps bringing me back over and over again to how crazy and magical it is to be carrying another life inside of me. 

While my recent reads have brought me back to a more conscious form of mindfulness, it's nice to realize that I never really stopped practicing.  My practice has just taken a different form, shifting from my meditation cushion to my growing belly.  And once baby arrives my practice will certainly shift again in ways that I can't possibly even fathom yet.  But I don't want to think too much about that yet, since I still have six more weeks of pregnancy moments to enjoy.   

Here's a recent picture of the belly at 32 weeks: