We crossed paths by the elevator on platform 2. And in 2 minutes he taught us a lesson in embodied mindfulness and how to relate to the world whole heartedly.
Stephan and I were fresh out of the forest, with our bikes, and I was well into a gloomy speech about the smell of pee and the horrors of the city, when the door slid open and he appeared. He was three, maybe four, blond, blue eyed, your average Danish boy in blue jeans, indeed. But there was something about the expression on his freckled face.
His grandmother nodded kindly as we squeezed to make way for the blue pram with a pink duvet covering his baby sister, I assume. He did not notice us at all. His gaze was glued to the platform. And in that moment his freckled face changed. His eyes opened wide, his eyebrows lifted and his mouth revealed the soft red inside as the battered red subway train pulled in. Wau, wau, wau! He exclaimed. Dét bliver dejligt! This will be wonderful!
The scent of old pea disappeared as did my gloomy thoughts; swept away by the boys delight into something as ordinary as a subway train. Suddenly I experienced it through his way of relating to it: Its one of the wonders in life. It really is. His freckled face glowed and his whole body came alive. He stretched his neck, got on his toes and one arm flew up waving at the train as it finally stopped. Wau! Wau! wau! he exclaimed again and took a step forward. His grandmother’s hand landed swiftly on top of the hand that was still holding onto the pram. And then she said: Ja, det bliver vel nok dejligt! Yes, indeed, this will be wonderful!
I couldn’t see her face but I heard the smile in her voice. And I heard exactly what any little boy would want to hear. She could have said a host of other things. Don’t wake your sister, be careful, it’s just a silly old train. But she chose to confirm his impression of the battered red subway train and how they would enjoy riding it together. A tremendous machine, a fantastic time.
The happiness of Being
Wau! Wau! Wau! It’s a toast to life and the bold happiness of being. Stephan took it up as a bon mot, especially suitable for drawing me out of gloomy thoughts. He expresses it in broken Danish in an attempt to mimic the boy’s pronunciation. And it works quite often. The moment comes back, the sound of the boy’s voice and the visual impression of his body as he salutes the shabby old train and takes a step towards it – still holding on to the pram. His whole body, from head to toes, vibrant, radiating aliveness. Reflecting the energy of the big machine and of his grandmothers’ affirmation. Hello, train, here I am!
He made our day. Or rather he presented us with the opportunity to become mindful and to delight in the ordinary. We did the action: Allowed ourselves to be infected with a naïve appreciation of the world and the child’s audacity to relate to it wholeheartedly: Here I am!
Mindfulness is not in your brain
Children are like mindfulness bells, an invitation to show up in the present moment, in our lives. Sometimes it’s a drag, sometimes it’s a joy. Children are also clear markers of how our being in the world is relational and embodied.
Mindfulness is a way of being in relation to the world. It depends on your brain, sure, but it’s not inside your brain, just as little as your mind is in your head. Mindfulness is relational. Certain neural networks may be necessary for mindfulness, but mindfulness itself consists of a whole host of integrated mind-body skills and ethically directed action in the world. It’s not a neural network.
Mindfulness is how you live your life in the world.