Mindfulness Lesson on Ice

Today at the ice rink, the present moment collided with the past and the future. And I’m not talking about science fiction here. I received a lesson in mindfulness.

For the first half hour of our family outing I skated slowly, holding hands and guiding each of my children as they found their balance and gained confidence. Then I handed my youngest off to my husband and did a few circuits solo. It was bliss to whizz around the ice, weaving in and out of teens, couples, and families in an arena echoing with laughter and barely recognizable classic rock. And that’s when it happened: I slowed down and tuned into the present moment. I saw the colors and lights, heard the scraping of blades on ice, felt and smelled the cool air. My eyes sought and found my two daughters arm-in-arm with their friend and my husband helping my son get up smiling from a fall. At this moment, I was filled with gratitude and felt poignantly aware and utterly alive.

Like many California forty-somethings I have been trying to be more present, both as a parent and as a human being. As physician and author of “Mindfulness for Beginners” Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us, the present moment is the only time you are ever alive. So I have been trying to put aside the smart phone and connect to and appreciate my life. But as I savored the here and now at the rink, I was struck by the fact that its sweetness was heightened by things outside the present moment. My experience had more meaning because I knew that someday in the future my children will grow up and leave, and even sooner than that they will stop holding my hand. It also had more meaning as I recalled the wordless yearnings of my teen-aged self in the ice arenas and roller rinks of my adolescence. This blast from the past and vision of the future made the present all the more precious.

Children are often touted as exemplars of living in the present moment — they are alive to their senses and don’t worry about schedules or taxes or death. While I agree that we can learn from watching children, I am coming to realize that mindfulness is more than just being in the moment. For it is awareness of the transient nature of everything — pleasure, pain, joy, life itself — that helps me to treasure and appreciate the blessings of my life and helps me to get through the difficulties.

Perhaps it is fitting that I should have this experience at Christmas time. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, I was visited by past and future and learned once again to count my blessings.