The other night at a dinner party, a friend described how she tried to practice mindfulness meditation to keep herself from losing it during an utterly wretched seven-hour layover in an airport while she was exhausted, ill and desperate to get home to her children.
"I kept trying to be all 'Be Here Now,'" she said, "but I just wanted to be anywhere but here."
We all laughed.
Then she described how, on another day, she'd managed not to bite off the head of a woman who'd been gratuitously mean to her 8-year-old daughter, but instead had stayed in the moment and had connected and been able to join with the woman in an experience of their common, sadly limited, humanity.
At which point, full of congratulations (and suppressing my own story of having lost my temper with a woman in an airport bathroom who, I felt, had addressed my daughter Julia with an unforgivable tone of officiousness and disdain), I was beginning to wonder what body snatcher had taken my cranky friend away and left this kindly, calm, pod person in her place.
Where was the woman I always seek out at school events to laugh with? Where was the black humor, the sense of absurdity?
I felt strangely abandoned.
It was, I realized, my first experience of being on the receiving end of someone sharing their journey on the road to mindfulness, the meditation and life practice that's all the rage now in psychotherapy, women's magazines, even business journals, as a way to stay calm, manage anger and live sanely. (David Foster Wallace, too, was writing a novel all about "being in the moment and paying attention to the things that matter," this week's New Yorker revealed.)
In the past, I'd been only on the other side of the divide. I had, it was true, sensed a certain sadness, even feelings of betrayal, in my husband Max's reaction to my proselytizing about my Pema Chödrön "Getting Unstuck" CD: "I never thought that you, of all people, would get into that New Age stuff," he'd said wistfully. But I hadn't realized that, when a person gets unstuck, the people around her can feel a bit left behind.
It has dawned on me lately, meditating on the Metro, thoughts silenced so completely that I can hear every page being turned by passengers up and down the car (I am above reading — I am present to myself) that being fully in the moment, all senses turned on, feeling your hands in your lap and the ground under your feet, is a very good way of not being there at all.
For me, this is a big part of the charm of the whole thing. I mean, it's a lot easier to feel a loving connection to others — to the madding crowd, that is — when you're entirely checked out. But it's not supposed to be that way.