My grandmother Muriel will soon turn 93. She’s living in LA now where she’s closer to her son and with much easier Winters than Minnesota where she spent most of her life. My Mom was flying in from Boston for a visit, so I decided it was time to pack up my family and drive down for a long weekend. It’s not a short drive, and I had to ignore a lot of urgent tasks that needed my attention, but spending time with my family, and making sure that my son has memories of his great-grandmother is one way that I personally practice Positive Human Connection. Positive Human Connection is many things, but above all it’s about not waiting for a better time be present with those we love. It’s also the core principle and basis for my company, Samovar Tea Lounge.
My first impression when I saw grandma Muriel was her beauty. 92 years-old and she’s a wonder to behold, with her thick, naturally dark hair, a ready-smile, and skin that while weathered is perfectly pink and soft as suede.
On this trip, I brought some of our new Velvet Cacao puerh tea. It’s a fantastic blend that has gotten rave reviews from our customers. While I prepared the tea, and the chocolate aromas filled the room, we made small talk, how’s business, how’s the weather, you know the deal.
But while we spoke I felt a growing sense of sadness. It crept in slowly, and then crashed down all at once as I re-encountered the ways that age has taken its toll. The tea was cool enough to drink now, and after she took a sip there were no compliments, only a confused scowl.
“What is this? What do you call it? Velvet cacao pu-what? Hmmm… Is there anything else? How about I make some Folger’s for you?”
Ha! Turns out we’ll be having instant coffee. I didn’t mind. There was plenty of tea waiting for me back in San Francisco. And besides, I wasn’t there to convert her! Just to spend some time together, to be present and appreciate her while I could.
That’s not what made me sad. What soon became apparent is the extent to which her mind has gone.
At one point, after refusing to accept my vague answers to her question, “Where is Bill?” (her husband, my grandfather, who died five years ago) I finally told her the truth. I braced myself, afraid of the inevitable anguish as she relived her loss as if for the first time.
But she surprised me. She paused, studying me as if to judge whether I was telling the truth.
“Well,” she said, finally. “How convenient! It seems everyone is dying of cancer just when I’m looking for them!”
That was not what I was expecting. And I could go on and on with anecdotes. The repeated questions. The confusion. The questioning looks. Her distress at forgetting who I was when I returned from the bathroom. Her relief at remembering.
But you don’t need to hear that. Odds are good that you have an aged loved one in your life in a similar situation. Or you did. Or you will.
Here’s the Paradox of Positive Human Connection: To feel love is also, simultaneously to experience loss.
Mevlana Rumi (1207 – 1273)
Even if your relationship can withstand the normal stresses, even if it carries you into old age, one day we will each return to the earth.
And yet, here we are. Me typing this message, wrestling with words to express my thoughts and emotions. You reading along, nodding in agreement (or frowning with disappointment!). This moment, whether terrible, ecstatic, or just plain ordinary is all we have to work with and all we will ever have.
The practice of mindfulness is what enables me to be present in the moment. I’m not meditation master, but when I take the time and remember to practice, I can slow down, sometimes to a near matrix-level of slow motion, and wallow in this present moment. Nowhere to run to. Nothing to attend to but this very moment.
You can learn this too. Mindfulness is not complicated, esoteric, or even exotic. It’s magical, and perfectly mundane.
In the beginning establishing mindful awareness can be elusive. We aren’t used to slowing down that much! We aren’t used to intentionally forgetting who we have been and the credentials that define who we believe we are. We aren’t used throwing away our GTD planners, shutting off our status feeds, and intentionally letting go of our ambitions and aspirations. We aren’t used to stepping off the roller coaster of the daily ups and downs that drive our moods and color our experiences.
But that is exactly what we have to do. To be mindful is to embrace this moment. We bring our attention inward, focusing on our ever-present breath. Watching the rhythmic in and out. At the same time we open our senses and pay attention to what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell.
Quieting the mind, is not the goal. Paying attention is what we are after. The thoughts will arise with no end. But we just acknowledge them and then let them go, like clouds floating across the vivid blue sky. Our goal is just to be here without moving towards or away from anything at all. In this simple action of attention and gentle focus we can begin to recognize that this moment is every moment that has been, the only moment that ever will be.
It isn’t more complicated that that.
It is opening to or recieving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is,
without either clinging to it or rejecting it.
One day, this trip will come to an end. We all know this intellectually, but from a variety of first-hand encounters I’ve had, including my most recent experience of connecting with my grandmother as she dances on her precipice, this knowledge has sunk into my bones. Into a knowing that makes life that much more sweet, more urgent, and more beautiful.
At Samovar Tea Lounge, we are a tribe of crazy-passionate tea lovers, trying to make a living while making the world a better place. I’m filled with gratitude for you, the customers and staff for giving me the chance to create a space where we can all engage in this Paradox of Positive Human Connection, a space where we can take the time to wake up to the mind-blowing reality of our lives in this-very-moment, over a pot or two of our delicious, delicious tea.
And now I want to hear from you! How do you deal with this Paradox? Please shared your experiences in the comments.
P.S. If you are interested in exploring some of the books that have inspired and guided my path, I highly recommend the books, eBooks, and audio produced by Shambhala Publications. You won’t be disappointed by anything they publish, but to help you get started, two excellent authors are Pema Chodron (Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, Don’t Bite the Hook (Audio CD) — great for commuting!) and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (The Myth of Freedom, Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior).