I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays
Lent, if it does anything at all, other than make you wish you hadn’t given up alcohol for it in what you now realize was a really dumb but well-meaning attempt to get all spiritual and mindful for forty days, helps you focus on what is really important. It’s not that lovely 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, with a week’s worth of dust gathered on its green glass prison that’s important. It’s not that you are not drinking it until Easter. Hell, you could be dead by Easter, and then you’ll never know what a wine from a wet, cold year in Northern California actually tastes like and your life will have been incomplete. But, don’t reach for the corkscrew. I don’t want to upend your spiritual quest. Not quite yet.
What’s really important is this journey that we are on. And that journey is a journey to mindfulness: to the here and now, the what is, the beingness of this day. You will, unless you’re a desert solitary, (in which case, you are breaking your vows right now by being on the internet, so get the hell out of here and go pray or something) come across at least one other human being today. Who is she? What is his story? How will you interact with that other person? How does your link with that person create a link with every person who has ever lived or will ever live?
The Lenten journey is the journey outward towards others, and inward towards yourself. Being mindful on that journey means seeing each person you encounter not just as a part of the whole world, but as the whole world. You want to buy the world a Coke and keep it company? Well, start by buying one for a person you meet today. Unless they gave up Coke for Lent, in which case, just give them the unopened bottle and tell them to wait until Easter. But the odds of that happening are pretty small. I mean, who gives up Coke for Lent?
The gift of mindfulness is that we can actually view other people as important. That college kid, juggling her crazy class schedule with her crazy work schedule, who’s checking you out at Whole Foods; the Punjabi immigrant behind the glass cage at the 7-Eleven; the mail carrier, who places your Amazon order under the chair on your front porch so it can’t be seen from the street; the guys on the sanitation truck, who sling that heavy trash container high over their heads, your wasted leftovers tumbling away from your neat, 21st century life. Those people are important. How about saying thanks to them today for showing up to work and making your life better?
You don’t have to save the whole world today, because it’s kind of complicated and there’s 7.5 billion people in it, most of whom will never see the inside of a Whole Foods, or a 7-Eleven or get a package from Amazon. You can start by just saying “thank you” to each one of them you meet. The profound sense of gratitude that Emerson described will transform your encounter with them, and that will transform your day and just possibly, your life.