“I’m so happy, I’m so happy. I loved my life,” were reportedly the last words spoken by the 19th century English mystic poet Gerard Manly Hopkins before his death. My breathing stopped when I read those words. These astonishing words he uttered. I thought about them for days. I spoke to others.
I rang a friend to ask what she thought about Hopkins’ last words. “I guess he wasn’t focusing on his achy back”, she remarked. I don’t know if he had an aching back but his life wasn’t easy, and he didn’t live long. Hopkins was a painter and a musician who wrote mystical poetry in which he struggled with deep and conflicting emotions, inner battles with his religion, spiritual longing and sexuality – tensions some of us might also be familiar with. Since his life wasn’t easy, how and why could he say such a thing?
I have observed that individuals who have a regular meditation practice or are contemplative by nature can achieve a spaciousness of mind that offers them the ability to hold a wider angle on their own reality. They can focus on the details of the problems at hand, yet at the same time be agile enough to shift easily into the role of the observer that naturally allows them to see more, and to achieve an uncommon resilience.
‘The panoramic view’, is a phrase that the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche used to describe a particular form of insight meditation. We can be the spectator watching a play, that of our own life. With a little less attachment we can free our mind from the anxiety and rush of thoughts that can cloud our actions. Much information is readily available out there that demystifies meditation practice. Essentially it’s about sitting still; being with the breath and, when thoughts arise, gently bringing the mind back to focus on the breath.
Difficult things can happen in life and the wisdom traditions teach ways ‘of being’ and provide us with tools to cross the terrain, the right shoes, the compass, a few extra snacks. Stilling our mind helps accomplish more mindfully the ordinary tasks of the day, and may further help us develop a sharpened vision and foresight useful for life’s journey. We spot the traps along the road, nimbly avoid the rocks, the dangers and dead ends, while at the same time witness with wonder the greatness of what it means to be alive.
As we stop to take a real look at things, either through meditation or other methods, we can touch the deeper part of our being, the watcher or witness that sees the essence of the whole story. Our story. We understand that beauty can be found not only in the joys and pleasure of life but in understandings that might result from grief, or loneliness. Mindfulness brings the gift of being able to perceive the fullness of our own story and of being awake enough to appreciate it with the wonder and gratitude it deserves.