One of the core lessons Buddhism teaches is to be mindful. Mindfulness means being acutely aware of your surroundings, being focused on what's in front of you, being attentive to the people near you and the context of your life. It means, quite simply, noticing.
In the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, one of the core lessons is to be grateful. Expressing gratitude, of course, first requires mindfulness. But then it requires us to give thanks for all that is good in our lives and sometimes even for what, at the moment, doesn't seem so good.
I was thinking about all that the other day as I finished reading astronaut Scott Kelly's engaging book Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery.
Toward the end of the book, which means toward the end of the year that Kelly spent on the International Space Station, he writes that he's often asked what he misses about Earth.
The two paragraphs that follow strike me as a perfect example of a combination of mindfulness and gratitude. See if you agree:
I miss cooking. I mess chopping fresh food, the smell vegetables give up when you first slice into them. I miss the smell of the unwashed skins of fruit, the sight of fresh produce piled high in grocery stores. I miss grocery stores, the shelves of bright colors and the glossy tile floor and the strangers wandering the aisles. I miss people. I miss the experience of meeting new people and getting to know them, learning about a life different from my own, hearing about things people experienced that I haven't. I miss the sound of children playing, which always sounds the same no matter their language. I miss the sound of people talking and laughing in another room. I miss rooms. I miss doors and door frames and the creak of wood floorboards when people walk around in old buildings. I miss sitting on my couch, sitting on a chair, sitting on a bar stool. I miss the feeling of resting after opposing gravity all day. I miss drinking from a glass. I miss setting things down on a table and having them stay there. I miss the sudden chill of wind on my back, the warmth of sun on my face. I miss showers. I miss running water in all its forms: washing my face, washing my hands. I miss sleeping in a bed -- the feel of sheets, the heft of a comforter, the welcoming curve of a pillow. I miss the colors of clouds at different times of day and the variety of sunrises and sunsets on Earth.
I also think about what I'll miss about this place when I'm back on Earth. It's a strange feeling, this nostalgia in advance, nostalgia for things I'm still experiencing every day and that often, right now, annoy me. I know I will miss the friendship and camaraderie of the fourteen people I have flown with on this yearlong mission. I'll miss the view of Earth from the Cupola. I know I will miss the sense that I'm surviving by my wits, the sense that life-threatening challenges could come along and that I will rise to meet them, that every single thing I do is important, that every day could be my last.
Maybe it would be a good thing -- and a good test of your own mindfulness and gratitude -- to write out a similar list for yourself today. Each of us has much for which to be grateful, after all.
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RELIGIOUS HELP FOR MENTAL STRUGGLES
A mosque in Raleigh, N.C., is helping Muslims there find the professional help they need to cope with mental illness and related stresses. It's one more thing clergy and congregations can do for people. In fact, at my own church, Second Presbyterian, our pastors last Sunday started a sermon series about mental health issues. You can watch the first sermon (it was terrific) here.