Slow and Steady Mindfulness


“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. Grace is the glue.”

- Eugene O’Neill –

For Martha and Bonnie

Last summer the Santa Catalina Mountains to the north of Tucson burned from a lightning-induced fire that lasted forty-nine days. The Bighorn Fire burnt its way from west to east along the sharp ridges and into the deep canyons of the Santa Catalinas, continuous westerly winds and high temperatures driving the fire.

At the eastern end is Mt. Lemmon at 9,147 feet above sea level, a haven for Tucsonans during the heat of the summer and the southernmost ski area in the country. We took our newly adopted dog Teddy up to Mt. Lemmon several weeks ago to escape the heat, not knowing what we would see. On the edge of a ridge overlooking the highest point on the mountain stood this lone pine tree growing from a crack in a massive granite outcropping. Because of a surprisingly robust monsoon season, the burn scars from the fire had already begun to heal, leaving a shimmer of green growth over the charred landscape.

Somehow this pine tree had escaped the flames. The fact that it was alive and thriving was due to the vagaries of wind and a testament to a tree’s innate life force and unseen support of the surrounding pines that science is only now unraveling. However restrained or slanted it might look, despite fire, drought, wind, and being buried through its years by snow, it knows to grow and reach for the light, slowly and steadily.

So too do we human beings grow. Tragedy and death and loss keep coming at us, the unknown hovering like a dark cloud, even as laughter, connection and love, births and synchronicity, and moments of beauty and joy also color our days. How do we hold such contrasting and simultaneous states of being? How can the sunset be so magnificent when almost everywhere we look the woven fabric of normal has been ripped away?

Instead of pushing against the uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable aspects of each day, we can instead embrace our paradoxical thoughts and actions. The act of acceptance creates a space for self-reflection that can only speak to us in a slow and steady rhythm. In that slowness, we can hear and see clarity instead of confusion, compassion instead of blame, choices instead of dead ends. In that steadiness we invite mindfulness to be our north star, the unseen support, the grace that can knit together a new way of being from what once appeared to be unnervingly chaotic, persistently negative, or despairingly hopeless.

The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote:

“The winds of grace are always blowing, it is for us to raise our sails.”

Like the tree who continues to spread its branches in storm and calm, toward sunlight and rain, we too must participate in our own living, our own thriving. Slowly, steadily, gracefully.

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