Reflections on the Path of Freedom Webinar
Besides the Zen meditation retreat I attended last weekend, I also had two mindfulness experiences last week that reinforced the value of my training.
In Janurary, I took a 6 session online webinar for facilitator training from the Prison Mindfulness Institute called, Path of Freedom, a mindfulness and emotional intelligence training for incarcerated youth and adults. As part of the curriculum, we, the facilitators-in-training, were taught about the concept of holding your seat, taken from the horse training sport of dressage. Basically, the idea is to not let your mind or emotions drag you around like an out-of-control horse; instead, keep your center (hold your seat) as you ride through all your mental and emotional fluctuations. For homework, we were asked to write about situations where we had to hold our seat within ourselves or with others.
Well, that week, I didn’t particularly have any triggers so I was worried I wouldn’t have anything to write about, but after going on a series of errands, I found I had plenty of material. My first stop was to my local natural food store (PCC). Even though I am ordinarily triggered by their high prices, on that day, I put items in my basket with relative equanimity. It wasn’t until I was waiting in line to check out that I was challenged to hold my seat. You see, the woman in front of me had some indecipherable issue with her debit card. It was the kind of issue where back and forth communication between her and the cashier seemed to go on and on. All customers have an intuitive sense of the amount of time that simple questions like, “Do you want cash back?” or “Did you bring your own bag?” should take, and this interaction was definitely taking too long by my clock. At the same moment my internal sensor was alerting me that I was in the wrong check out line, I decided to try the hold your seat exercise. Instead of focusing on the cashier, I focused on my breath and stilling my mind. It’s not that I didn’t notice her inefficient use of time, or her poor spatial organization when she bagged her customer’s groceries; it was that I was relaxed and easy with it. Just as I was settling into taking whatever time it was going to take, I noticed at the edge of my periphery vision, a cashier at the next register opening her drawer. I made a beeline to that register, beating out other customers to be the first in line. Holding my seat didn’t mean I needed to stay frozen in an unwanted situation. Instead, by centering myself, I was able to relax and keep my awareness open and alert so I could fluidly move out of stasis.
My next stop was to get gas at the Safeway gas station on Rainier Avenue S. When I opened the door to the cashier’s kiosk, I had an instant flash of irritation, an inner harrumph, as I was once again at the back of a long line of customers waiting to pay while a man at the front of the line was raising his voice with the cashier. “Not this again,” I thought to myself. This time, the tension wasn’t all within me, although I did have my own fair share given that the Safeway on Rainier Avenue is the epicenter of gang-related violence in South Seattle. I was all too aware that an angry man could turn into a dangerous man in this setting, but I decided to focus on holding my seat, rather than entertaining random fear. Ordinarily, in this kind of situation, I would be primarily focused on listening to my own internal annoyance, but as I stilled my mind, I started listening, really listening, to the biracial man at the head of the line. Apparently, he did his own calculations and the amount printed on his debit receipt was inaccurate. After the cashier asked the man to step aside for a few minutes so he could take care of the other customers waiting in line before attending to his issue, I made eye contact from my place in the line and said, “You did the math, eh?”
“Yep, and this receipt says I saved 70 cents but actually I only saved 45 cents. It’s wrong.”
“They (meaning The Man) count on us not doing the math, on us being stupid.”
“You got that straight,” he agreed. Two African Americans in line in front of me also turned toward me, and nodded, adding to the consensus.
“Thanks for speaking up,” I said.
“You GOT TO!”
“Yep, I learned something real important today.”
After I paid for my gas and started walking towards the door, the formerly angry man, now the acknowledged man, said, “You have a real nice day, Miss.”
Being mindful doesn’t mean just being exclusively focused on yourself, and your own internal experience. No, being mindful means opening up your whole sensory body to really experience what’s happening, both inside and around you. If we practice mindfulness every day, and have the discipline to hold our seat, we might become enlightened in every ordinary situation.