It was Bastille Day in Paris. Having just arrived the day before in that beautiful city, jetlag was weighing heavy on my bones. In an attempt to adjust to the new time-zone we took a morning walk through the vibrant Bois de Vincennes where we came upon a grove of trees with colorful prayer flags draped in the branches. A saffron robed monk was sitting on a log offering a dharma talk to a small crowd gathered around him. As luck would have it we were on the grounds of The Grand Pagoda, the Buddhist temple which houses within its walls the largest statue of Buddha in all of Europe.
My heart leapt with joy and even though only French was being spoken, I took my seat to practice mindfulness.
For those of you new to “mindfulness,” I like to think of it as a training to settle the mind; the fruits of which are increased presence, loving awareness and kindness, clarity of mind, and better emotional regulation.
It was a beautiful morning in the park. As I listened to the knowing chuckles of those seated around me I remembered similar scenes where I had been the giggler in response to a humorous comment one of my beloved teachers had made.
Minutes passed and in the midst of feeling truly blessed by my happy circumstances, I began to feel strain in my back. Mild discomfort grew into aching and next caving, and then as if my body was saying…
You’re not listening to me!
The pain increased to an intensity I no longer chose to bear. I shifted my seat to a very tall tree for support.
Ahhh…so much better.
Several more minutes passed and as with all good things, my overall well-being began to transform into restlessness. The French language was beautiful but impossible to understand. The monk’s voice began to fade into a blur.
Unpleasant, tired, unpleasant, hot, I whispered to myself attempting to remain present as my mind had begun the fight to detach from my body.
Periodically, passerby’s would stop and watch what was going on not caring to lower their outside voices, and then to my mild horror I noticed giant ants climbing up my legs.
Creeped out, irritation, judging, annoyance, resistance
With each distraction I attempted to remain the observer and dutifully returned my attention to the monk.
As time moved forward though, the frequency and variety of distractions had their way with me and I became overwhelmed. It was exhausting as I fought to stay present.
What to do…what to do…
Just as thoughts of leaving began to take hold in my mind, a formation of low flying fighter jets zoomed over the park and our little gathering. It being Bastille Day, the celebrations had begun.
With annoyance so fresh in my mind, my first thought was…
You have to be kidding me.
Thankfully it wasn’t long before I saw it as an opportunity to practice welcoming the moment. The monk continued talking but soon stopped and joyfully watched the planes along with everyone else.
Rescued by war planes…how ironic…judging, sarcasm…
Back on track I settled once again into my breath. Breathing with my little sangha, the trees, the swans in the near-bye pond, the flowers, everyone enjoying the beautiful morning, the pigeons, and then …
A very healthy pigeon who was perched on one of the branches above
It fell first on my hair,
and then down onto my shoulder,
and because of the sheer volume,
its’ journey ended on my lap.
In a mindful state,
I heard the sound,
saw the many colors
and the slimy wet nature of the pigeon’s waste.
I was startled and disgusted but accepted the moment with a smile and the pigeon as a teacher. It helped that I was in my workout clothes and hadn’t yet showered.
I would like to say I stayed until the sit was over, but I didn’t. I was done; it was time to go. Not mad and only a little disgusted, I had had enough. We finished our walk in the park and then went back to the hotel for a shower and a change of clothes.
On the outside I laughed about what a great story this experience was going to make while on the inside I labored to make peace with the futility of expectations.