We all romanticize the past. The way things were and the people we knew were second to none. Children today “don’t know what it was like” to live when we were younger. Undoubtedly, older days were simply better days. And yet when we see children today against the backdrop of global turmoil and an epidemic that has led to nothing short of an existential crisis for many adults, we forget to remind ourselves that for them the good ol’ days are now. Today. Not eventually or at some point. Now.
The philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote a collection of reflections in his work Pensées (French for “thoughts” or “reflections”). Written as a form of Christian apologetics, he explores humanist and theological concepts including our perception of time itself. In one of his more poignant lines he writes:
“We never keep to the present. We recall the past. We anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does…”
I often think of my own parents and childhood at the start of every school year, my own “wander about in times.” My father worked for the airline industry and my mother was a homemaker and worked in the food industry when me and my three brothers were all in school. They put the four of us through a combined 52 years of Catholic education. I often joke with parents that they believed in two things growing up: braces and Catholic education. As if a good smile and the sacraments were all you needed; in many respects, they were right.
But during my childhood, I never lacked necessities. We certainly weren’t what you would consider upper class or affluent but you’d never know it from our childhood and our “good ol’ days.” One of the graces of childhood is being immune to the worries and struggles your parents endure: making ends meet, mounting bills, and general parental anxieties. Only now as I raise my own boys can I experience this reality, that my worries and concerns are not theirs nor should they be. Their “good ol’ days” are now.
These days, it’s all too easy (and yet completely understandable) to recall a better past time when faced with so much uncertainty, confusion, and pain. But in working (dare I say fighting) to be more mindful of the present we retrain our mind to be calmer, focused, and quite frankly, happier. Mental pain stems more from our inability to be mindful than it does from the present itself. The way we allow ourselves to be comforted by a familiar past or in the perception of a joyful unknown future is the source of our anguish. By recognizing the glimmer that shines in even the murkiest of waters we remind ourselves of the overflowing grace that surrounds us at all times.
It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!
This year our guidance counselor, in collaboration with school administration, chose “Mindfulness” as the school theme for promoting the well-being of our students. While some may conflate this with some new-age movement promoted by Hollywood elite, it’s important to remember that it is an invaluable tool for fostering greater awareness in a world that is driven by the speed of our wi-fi and the myth of multitasking which often results in doing little (if anything) well. Mindfulness echoes the “Growth Mindset” articulated by psychology professor Carol Dweck which recognizes the need for students to be aware of how they approach difficulties in the classroom by utilizing different approaches to learning. Of course many of us have “fixed” mindsets about certain things in life ranging from how we like our coffee prepared to expectations of work colleagues. But when it comes to education we can defer to language that doesn’t promote the best in our students, e.g., “math may not be your best subject,” or “we can’t all be athletes.” In short, a growth mindset isn’t just effort; it is being mindful of how we develop and grow as learners.
I often reminded new teachers I was mentoring that when class begins, the students in front of you are the most important people in your life. That is mindfulness. Even as you read this post you may be thinking about what you’re making for dinner tomorrow, or how busy your weekend it going to be, or how relaxed you’ll be after paying your bills. Whatever it is, in doing so we neglect being mindful of the people and events that are in front of us, here and now. When I am home playing with my boys, I remind myself that I am in fact playing with my boys and not thinking about enrollment numbers, or that driver that cut me off, or if we can afford taking that vacation. Mindfulness is a call to model the virtues of patience and humility in every moment of every day.
Within the Catholic tradition, mindfulness is evident by many of the great thinkers throughout time: Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, and Hildegard of Bingen, among others. Their lives are powerful testimonies of what it means to be practitioners of mindful practice, to immerse oneself in prayerful reflection by meditating on the great truths of life. The Mysteries of the Rosary is the quintessential mindful practice of Catholicism. By calling us to prayer, we are invited to be present and aware of our minds and hearts, how we reason and how we feel. Placing ourselves into the vignettes of Jesus’ life and resurrection and that of the early disciples, we gain a greater appreciation for the daily miracles (and challenges) of our own life. In short, by becoming mindful of mindfulness we begin to cultivate a deeper appreciation for the beauty that is imbued in even the most mundane of acts and the simplest acts that surround us.
It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!