Some Brilliant Minds on Mindfulness
I have a typewriter now, and it’s a clickety old charcoal-colored Smith Corona that I bought from a peaceful old woman on a sunny Brooklyn Saturday morning. She was sitting alone on her stoop two-handing a cup of coffee, a few steps up from a handmade sign that was quite clear in its purpose: THIS TYPEWRITER IS FOR SALE. She had then drawn an arrow, one pointing squarely to the typewriter. So I stopped, we chatted, she told me it needed a new ribbon, I gave her some money, and as I was leaving, she said, “It’s been a good friend,” almost as though she owed it some parting words before letting it go forever – a small reminder of finitude, a little death: the goodbye.
When I turned around to respond, she had taken her coffee to the garden, one-handing it now so she could use the other to draw a bright pink flower to her nose. The sun was behind her, birds the only soundtrack, so I let her be and walked home.
I later took it to the fourth floor of a building in Gramercy, where a gray-haired man named Mr. Schweitzer sat in a windowless room surrounded by typewriters and told me it was in great condition. “Could use some oil and a few new springs,” he said, and had it back to me a week later. "Here,” he said, opening the case, “give it a spin.” I wrote a few words before it was his turn. I kept what he wrote, using it and the receipt he typed as a bookmark, leaving them both, as I do, in whichever book I needed to mark at the time. The first Harry Potter, I believe.
This past Sunday, I found myself near Fort Greene Park as it started to drizzle. My shoulder bag is always full of books, so I ducked into a little cafe, ordered my favorite biscuit with honey butter, and dug out my good friend, Mary Oliver.She has been around the world with me, taken me through difficult evenings on the hotline, and shared quiet mornings with me where poem-by-poem I hear my neighborhood come to life: the thrum of Bedford Avenue, the sun angling it’s way through my curtain, some gentle music coming from my speaker. All while she writes things like:
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
(Ah, how much better it is to hear Garrison Keillor read it.)
This weekend, though, it was part of a poem in Blue Horses that had me scribbling in the margins. This:
THE FOURTH SIGN OF THE ZODIAC (PART 3)
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
So why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
Soon after, I found two other lines that caught me, so I paid and left, hands-in-pockets, slowly through the rain and back to my typewriter. They’re what you see in the photo above, typed on some lovely textured paper I must have spent hours choosing from a nearby shop that Mr. Schweitzer recommended. I think I’ll pin them to my wall. Not yet, but soon.
I don’t know what it is about mindfulness – kindness and thoughtfulness, too – that seem to always resonate. Maybe I believe the world to be short on them. Maybe I try and truly admire their presence, their happening. Maybe I believe that they’re not just words or ideas, that they actually breathe, and the very fact that they exist – that we have the chance to actually bring them to life as much as we like – is one of the greatest privileges of living. Maybe I believe them to be inextricably linked to love, the world’s most precious commodity, so immensely sacred. To George Saunders, their lack is his biggest regret (”failures of kindness,” he calls them), and to Ben Lerner, they’re “risks” – ones certainly worth taking, because, well, why not?
A sentence from my new favorite sage, one who talks about risk and purpose and legacy often. It was nighttime when I read it first – a moment that cemented my love for him – and I closed the book to scrawl the words onto a small scrap of paper, one that I did pin to my wall:
“And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
Put differently – though nicely extending the nighttime imagery used a moment ago by Dumbledore, and before that by Mary Oliver – with the blue-collar tinge you might expect from Bruce Springsteen (ellipses are his):
“Then…if you want to take it all the way out to the end of the night, a furious fire in the hole that just…don’t…quit…burning.”
Together – the odd grouping of Bruce Springsteen, Dumbledore, Mary Oliver and George Saunders – I think I have a rather complete idea of what I want my purpose to be: inexhaustible mindfulness, greeting each day in happiness, trying not to fail with kindness, allowing darkness to prod me, though no matter how dark, forever stepping out into the night, pursuing chance and risk and hope and adventure endlessly endlessly endlessly.