I just finished one of my favorite gigs of the year, teaching relaxation and meditation to 15 year olds at a nearby school with a wonderfully diverse and interesting student body. We made our way into the subject of disciplining and resting the mind and body by acknowledging together our mutual infinite distractibility. Where this hit home for them, almost to a person, was in recognition that we have all had, pretty much daily, the experience of talking to another person...a friend, a teacher, a parent, a beloved crush...and suddenly realizing that that person wasn't really listening to us..wasn't really THERE. On the other hand, they all acknowledged that they often have the experience of being in a conversation and suddenly realizing that they were supposed to respond to someone...but didn't have any idea what that person had just said.
These young students accepted our real and universal need for the people we love, need, admire and relate to to ACTUALLY BE PRESENT WITH US WHEN WE ARE WITH THEM. The positive value of learning to be more present through meditation and relaxation was easily accepted, but less easily accomplished. They agreed that the vast stimulus of electronic communication is making people even more distracted than ever, and ironically, often less available. It takes real discipline of the mind and regular practice to overcome the level of distractedness that has become the norm these days. I believe that that norm interferes with the challenges of having real intimacy and experiencing enduring and sustaining loving relationships.
In introducing my classes I quote from Emerson the beckoning passage: "I invite people drenched in time to recover themselves and come out of time and taste their native immortal air". When we do that, through whatever personal practice, when we shut out the endless distractions of "over there", yesterday and tomorrow, and get comfortable in the rich textures and fullness of the moment we are actually in...we are more able to be present, to ourselves and to others. We are also more able to become aware of the uselessness and even destructiveness of much of the petty sarcasm and meanness that passes for communication and conversation these days.
When my kids were little, we used to send out collaged valentines made out of lots of origami-paper hearts arranged in various patterns around the words: "Love Makes the Spring Come Back.." reflecting mommy's suspicion that this love-fest of a holiday was designed to help people survive the most dreary, cold, often depressing part of the winter by celebrating warmth, and cozy love.
I think that's true: in the quiet dormancy of winter, new understanding can emerge, and celebrating love and making new efforts to understand what it can be and how to live it, keeps hope alive for renewal and ongoing life.
My mother used to send really silly 1950's style paper valentines to my kids until they were teens. The valentines almost always said something really corny...and then said..."Be Mine". In an age when the reality of impermanence is ever more with us, the "be mine" can be understood not as a request to be possessed forever, but, hopefully, as an invitation to be fully with me, without distraction, one moment at a time. All the other stuff we exchange may be fun...but it doesn't make the Spring come back. This is a basic tenet of Buddhist teaching which can be applied to people from all traditions: the best present you have for your beloved is the present moment: It's you, fully present with an open and gentle heart right here, right now.