Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
It was oddly emotional when the realtor suggested I remove all the art from the walls before we show the house. With our bid accepted on a property with more space and more opportunities, I pressed her for details on how to prepare our current home for the market.
I felt I was putting my heart in a box. Turning my friends -my art- away and hiding them in the box. Evenings would pass without musing on that painting. Mornings pass without looking at those wedding photos. My eyes hold their own rituals traveling the well-known paths of my decor as I walk around the home. It is comforting, calming, and fills my heart with joy. Why was I stuffing all the things I find beautiful in a box? What would I do without these things?
Now, the walls are clear, much of the furniture removed, clutter cleared away. It is still my home, but now the home speaks for itself.
Instead of resting my eyes on the antique frames and personal mementos, the scenery rolls by and from contemplating my surroundings, I turn inward and see what thoughts I can produce.
It is not much, to be honest. I mentally decorate our next home. I review what areas I can pack up next. And then I am stuck. After a day or so, the thought dawns on me, “oh, I could think about my writing.”
Distraction and stimulation come in different forms: sixteen computer tabs, message alert chimes, the screaming if bickering siblings. I learned to contemplate, to fix my mind on something and take it in, the ancient and non-denominational form of mindfulness when my thoughts would ruminate on thoughts too painful to bear.
Much of psychology draws on spiritual traditions. In ancient times, healthy practices developed that helped people. Without a psychological or scientific vocabulary, these were often defined and interpreted in a spiritual tradition. The practice now is to take the technique for its physical or psychological benefits and leave the religious aside. Thus, talk of mindfulness without Buddhism; yoga without Hinduism, meditation without Christianity. We ask how does this practice just on its own, apart from religion?
In the Christian tradition, there are three types of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, contemplation.
In the first, we find praise, thanksgiving, and petition. From petition, we extrapolate the power of naming our needs and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to ask for them. In thanksgiving, the practice of gratitude. In praise, the awareness of something greater than ourselves at work in the world, in the universe.
Meditation translates to actively using one’s imagination to explore a concept, an idea, or a story. It is mental work to discover some truth contained in the tale.
Contemplation, like mindfulness, lets the thing to be discovered come to me. I allow myself to just be, and in being, I become more open to that which there is to be discovered.
Although the three types are traditionally placed on a hierarchy, they ought not to exist in isolation. All three are necessary for wellbeing.
I listen to podcasts, then to artsy music. But can I sit in silence? Can I take the time to explore those conundrums presented, abstract ideas that are not pressing at all?
Someone presents an idea, as I saw happen on Facebook: government-sponsored home visits for new mothers, perhaps. Reactions abound. But sit and parse through it: my perspective, their perspective, my needs, needs of others who are not like me, practical concerns, how would it look, how would it work, if there was a better way- how would that work, what would it cost, would the powers-that-be be willing to adopt it.
The practically minded around us may say it is a waste of time to explore one idea so deeply. The busy among us will find little time to explore. But Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
It is the stuff of philosophers through the ages. It is the stuff of boredom. It is the stuff of empty walls.