Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mindful Milking

I have never been responsible for the milking of a cow. I think I may have had a little try at milking, once or twice in the dimly remembered past, but it was never one of my daily chores.

I find myself thinking about the task of milking (or should I call it an art?) as I begin to explore the idea of mindfulness. Oh, sure, I've had a little try at mindfulness now and then, too, but recently I have decided that it is a key to my growth and to the healing of some troublesome patterns in my life. I have finally faced the fact that my daydreams are damaging me. Around the same time, perhaps as a cause or perhaps as a result, several experiences have pointed towards the need and the path for change.

At a retreat I attended in October, I somehow got the idea to be wordless as I went for a walk on a winding trail up the steep side of a coulee. It was native vegetation, bush and prairie grass, rich with species that I could name, but I chose not to. Taking that idea further, I chose again and again not to analyse what I was seeing, or even to narrate it in my mind, but simply to receive. No imagining how I would describe the experience later, no toying with expressive phrases, no words at all.

Paradoxically, later I found myself able to bring the entire experience vividly back to mind, and thus to describe it in as much expressive detail as I might desire, precisely because I had not been distracted during the experience by the imagined retelling of it.

It occurred to me that I smear my past, present, and future together by constantly planning and rehashing instead of being present. Nothing gets my full attention. How much benefit do I get by all this absent thought? Could I just re-assort my mind-time so that most of it was focussed on the now? If I practise being present, will that be just as good preparation for future present moments as if I imagine them and try to plan for them?

Another thought occurred to me, that if I spend most of my time being present, I will need to take some time being totally present to activities like planning, and thinking of people far away, and so on. I worry that I won't have time for that sort of focus, if I stop doing it while in the midst of something else. But maybe I will.

When I returned from the retreat, I was determined to find some books I had stashed away, books about the Enneagram, to further my self discovery. I had assumed that they would be hard to find, but they were near the top of the first box I checked. Then I heard about an Enneagram workshop, and found some online resources, and noticed that some Enneagram teachers recommended the works of Eckhart Tolle.

That same day, visiting across the street, I noticed a book by Eckhart Tolle called "The Power of Now." I borrowed it.

Meanwhile the busyness of life continued, and living from deadline to deadline, I struggled with increasing domestic chaos. I know I need a routine, but I fear imposing a routine on myself, and missing out on some important direction that I would take if I just went with the flow. Finally I decided that I must make a plan. In fact, that is the plan: to make a plan. It still hasn't happened, but like a seed invisibly changing under the soil, there is movement and new energy in my life. Lying in bed one morning, noticing how often I lie idly planning and rehashing and daydreaming in the early morning, I decided on just two things as the beginning of a plan. I gave them alliterative names to keep them in mind: Mindful Mornings, and Being in the Bathroom.

No, no, I don't mean spending a lot of time in the bathroom! I mean really Being there when I am there. And leaving when I'm finished! Otherwise I can linger on the throne of thought until my legs go numb.

I am resisting these ideas, fearing the change, fearing the loss of something, but I haven't given up on them yet.

Last night I started reading "The Power of Now." I was delighted to find a bit about being present while washing hands, noticing the slipperiness of the soap. This morning I am a flurry of activity with facing what's really in front of me, and making lists of all the things I can't fix all at once, and worrying that I will do the easy things first and not have time for the rest but finding that I am really getting a lot done. Folding clothes, I caught myself thinking about something else and realized that, in the midst of some other train of thought, I could easily fold and shelve things without even noticing that they need mending. I am about to start the dishes, and waffling. Shall I focus on the soapy water and the surfaces coming clean, or shall I use this time for some reflection on other things?

I've heard that when you milk a cow, you may have to quiet your mind before she will let down the milk. And so I bring a question for my elders on the path of right living. (Eleutheros and Contrary Goddess and Madcap Mum and Jim at Earth Home Garden, I'm thinking of you.) Do you milk (or quilt or gather eggs) mindfully? Or to put it another way, when you ponder the questions of the universe, do you keep your hands busy?


Maybe Eckhart Tolle will have some answers for me. I'm sure life will. I'll let you know. Right now, though, I'm running out of time to get those dishes done.


Tim Hodgens said...


The Power of Now by Tolle is an extraordinarily important and powerful book. I learned a few things about the mind and what it does and how it operates which has had a very significant impact on my work and my own personal life. I hope you also find similar benefits.

When I read some of the comments on the back of the book before I bought it, there was one which said something about how the reader will want to underline many things. I said to myself (in my best opositional voice) "yea, sure."

You got it...virtually everything got starred or underlined.

I'm happy for you.


arcolaura said...

Thanks Tim! As soon as I posted this, I got thinking that you might have something to say, and I went away wondering why I had named certain people as my elders. There are many I would like to hear from, but I guess some speak to me more as elders and others more as companions. And the line is very blurry.

Madcap said...

Oh my gosh. An elder in mindfulness to YOU? I don't think so.

I'm going to have to put some thought into this. ;-). It's my course weekend, so I'm a little frenzied right now, but I'll try to get back to it next week. If I don't, I've just forgotten, so prod me!

arcolaura said...
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arcolaura said...

It's an interesting word, mindfulness. I don't think it means having your mind full. I often have my mind so full that it can't even take in loud noises, approaching vehicles, etc.

But also, I'm thinking that not all mindfulness is right mindfulness. (Go ahead, play with that one!) Those advertising images of spandex-clad bodies in yoga poses with quiet ocean in the background - those images don't appeal to me at all. I'm looking for wisdom from people who do real stuff - people who "fetch wood and carry water," or make things, or mind children, or...

Have a good weekend, Madcap.

Tim Hodgens said...


I'll take the blurry edge any time.

Anyway, I'll just be 67 this Saturday, and I'm sure they're all "really" old. :))


Jim said...
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Jim said...



Well I am getting old!

I just had my 62nd birthday which makes me an official senior citizen, but lets just call you and I fellow travelers.

Your "wordless" walk in nature is very similar to my experiences with your "mindfulness" or what I might call ‘living in the moment’.

By living in the moment, I mean being completely of that moment with no distraction.

It's something I strive toward in my life, to live deliberately in as many moments as possible, but not something I have great success with.

Being alone in nature works very well for me in that respect, and washing dishes too, of all things.

I've found that when I’m home alone (with the phone shut off) I can sometimes fully involve myself in the simple act of dishwashing; the warmth of the water, the grease cutting action of the suds, the detailed characteristics of each item of houseware in my hands, the coziness of being home with a sink and running water.

Dancing with Peggy is another time I often find myself completely of the moment, or sitting in our garden stitching a pine-needle basket, or laying silently in bed with Peggy under a sky full of stars during the summer when we sleep out on the deck.

"Wordless" seems to be a key ingredient for me in achieving that state.

Ten or more years ago I remember being on a hike with some of my botanist friends along a magnificent trail full of nature's magic and mystery while my friends were collecting flowers and leaves for further study and putting latin names to everything in sight. I found their antics so distracting that I finally blurted out something like, "Do you guys ever just BE in and OF these beautiful places, or must you always dissect, analyze, and put names to everything?"

They just ignored this old crank (I'm 20 years older than the oldest of them) and went about their busyness so I drifted off by myself to resume my reveling in a natural world that existed long before we came along to put names to everything.

I believe infants and very young children live in the moment, and in awe, much of the time, but that natural ability seems to diminish as our lives grow more complicated.

In my late teens I read the book 'Stranger In A Strange Land' by Robert Heinlein, in which he coined the word 'grok'.

As the meaning of this word gradually unfolded in the book I realized that to be able to grok something was a skill humans, myself included, really needed to work on.

My American Heritage Dictionary defines grok as; "To understand profoundly through intuition or empathy".

Sometime later I also concluded that the ability to grok something was also a key ingredient in the ability to love that something deeply.

A time most of us might find ourselves completely of the moment is when we're lost in lovemaking; open, sensitized, vulnerable, attentive, and completely involved.

So, I suppose I could say that, for me, every moment I spend living fully 100% in that moment, is a moment spent making love with life, with the earth, with the cosmos.

In my book there can never be too many of those kind of moments.

Perhaps it's like the difference between talking and listening.

When fully living in the moment comes to me I'm usually looking, listening, and most importantly, feeling...

arcolaura said...

Thanks for those thoughts, Jim.

I had a fascinating weekend exploring the Enneagram from a totally different angle than any I've seen in books. In fact Garth and I brought home all the flipchart sheets plus all Garth's notes, to write up as much as we can of the wisdom we heard there and then take it back to the leaders (David Walsh and Carol Ann Gotch) for revisions. Perhaps it will become a book.

Anyway, there was far more there than I can mention in a comment, but when they were discussing the "six" space and being attuned to rhythms of life, I really sat up and took notice. And then they said that the "six" space is about contemplation, and I knew I had to raise my question from this post. There were knowing smiles, and David explained that "contemplation" comes from "con templum," meaning "with the pattern," and it involves being present to the patterns and rhythms of life and of the cosmos. Although the popular idea of "contemplating" involves thinking something over, "contemplation" actually means almost the opposite: it means not thinking; it means quieting the mind and attending to the pattern here and now.

So, although my busy mind can quickly come up with all sorts of objections, I will keep trying to quiet it and be in the moment.

Anonymous said...
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arcolaura said...

Thank you, k moo, that's a gem! That shouldn't be buried in a comment box. I'm moving it front page, right now.

CG said...

I milk. And it is a time of quiet. Yes, the mind quiets. Am I always mindful, always present? Of course not. But more so than not. Have to be to keep her foot out of the bucket, to not get killed because they do weigh more than you (a wonderful nudge toward mindfulness, that danger of dying).

arcolaura said...

Hmmm. I guess so, as long as it's a danger of dying this moment, not tomorrow or next week. Otherwise we're back into that need for balance between awareness of consequences (no gardening, no food) and trust (my anxiety won't help the potatoes grow).

arcolaura said...

Oh, and thanks. I've been wrestling a lot less with this question since my discovery of the real meaning of "contemplation" - with the pattern (see my reply to Jim above). And I keep coming across affirmations for attending what's here in front of me instead of wrestling with the same old ideas inside, round and round. The latest was a comment in Bruce Sanguin's "Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos" about the wisdom in everything, all around us - the incredible genius of a plant leaf harvesting solar energy, or of a parrot eating clay from just the right spot to get kaolin to bind toxins. What a parade of wonders I must miss while my mind is somewhere else!

Paul said...

Laura, I just read several of your most recent posts. This one tops the list for me. A good reminder of what we seem to know innately but so often ignore! The older I get the more I want to leave the camera at home.

arcolaura said...

Thanks, Paul. This comment is a timely reminder to me to keep choosing to be wordless at least some of the time.