Regardless of our surroundings, life always provides us with the opportunity to practice mindfulness. Even in rush hour traffic or a crowded shopping mall, we can always connect to our breath and be in the present moment. Admittedly, however, some locations are more conducive for doing so than others. And so it was on the Saturday before Mothers Day, that my wife and I found ourselves in just such a place. A spontaneous eighty-eight mile excursion transported us to the picturesque village of Nyack, New York. This small hamlet on the banks of the Hudson River boasts of antique shops and cafes, beautiful old homes, and numerous breathtaking views of the river. However, the intention of our trip was to visit the Edward Hopper House Art Center, which was the boyhood home of the prominent American realist painter, Edward Hopper.
We walked through the rooms and strolled around the town that from 1882 to 1910 was Edward Hopper’s life. We peered outside his bedroom window and we were able to catch a glimpse into what sparked young Edward’s imagination. Out his window and through the trees we could see beautiful sailboats placidly floating on the calm Hudson River. It was this vantage along with the tree-lined streets and the beautiful homes that provided Edward with the subjects of many of his great paintings. However, ironically, out of all the beautiful works of art that hung on the old walls, what grabbed my attention the most was a small, almost postcard size drawing titled “Little Boy Looking at the Sea.” Enclosed inside a glass case and drawn on the opposite side of his third grade report card, Edward Hopper’s first known drawing craftily displayed the themes of introspection and silence that would later permeate his more mature and popular works. It is amazing how the nine-year-old Edward Hopper could capture such a strong emotion, depict it in a relatively simple drawing, and have it still resonated some one hundred and twenty-four years later. I believe such talent can only emanate from a person who, at least at the time they are creating their work, is completely and totally present.
Whether it is a masterful artist or an exceptional IT professional, to be successful at any endeavor one must disconnect from their thinking mind and be fully present in the moment. A player at Wimbledon, when on center court, can’t possibly be thinking about what they will be having for dinner that night if they are expected to win the match. They must have their attention fully and completely in the present moment.
As I continued to walk through the small museum, I felt utter joy savoring with my eyes the beautiful watercolors and oil paintings. It then occurred to me that this was exactly the experience that we all strive for when we attend the Mindfulness Awareness Program. I then began to think about our sessions and the breathing techniques that our instructors Stephanie and Corrine had taught us. Ironically, it was at this moment that I realized I was no longer being present and enjoying the paintings. I was in my mind in some fictitious moment on the Hopewell Campus. I was a bit disappointed in my lapse until I remembered the teachings of our instructors and shifted my focus back to the paintings in front of me and the wonderful day I was having with my wife.
On the following Tuesday, in Stephanie’s session, Nadya, one of the Mindfulness Awareness program’s leaders shared with the group her frustration that in the past week she had not been as mindful as she would have liked. Stephanie reminded us all that mindfulness is a practice and that we are not seeking perfection. Our goal is to experience the joy in life, not to become perfect at being present. In fact, paradoxically, the very act of recognizing that you are no longer being present can only happen in the present moment. This recognition is actually a sign of success and an indication that you are now back in the present moment.
So I encourage all of you to come out on the second and third Tuesday of each month along with every Wednesday of the month with the exception of the last Wednesday to enjoy the practice of present moment awareness. Here on the Hopewell campus we have created a community that provides a safe and non-judgmental environment to allow us all to take a break from our workday and to learn some everlasting mindfulness techniques. Techniques that can be used in all aspects of our lives and provide a window into present moment awareness and the joy that mindfulness can bring to all of us.