One of the best explorations of mindfulness—and the lack thereof—is in Graham Greene’s delightful short story “The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen.” A woman writer, boastful of her powers of observation which she’s sure will guarantee her success, never notices the distinctive party of eight Japanese gentlemen (seven wearing glasses) eating fish at the table next to where she’s holding court completely self-absorbed.
My experience yesterday wasn’t as colorful or witty, but in the morning, having forgotten to take breakfast with me to the wilderness that is our office, I walked across to the medical center café, intent on my woes. But thankfully I looked up and out, just in time, by chance, and saw the beauty of the sun-struck dew glittering on the sea of decorative grasses that wash over two Bronze Age hill forts (or so they seem!) in front of the café, surrounded by white roses. I was chastened, and gladdened, and taught an important lesson.
Fully aware, then, I was further gladdened by a vegetable breakfast sandwich with bacon (another of my sins), the kindness of the help, and the walk back along our fountains—nothing like the Villa d’Este, of course, but nonetheless something worth noticing and even seeking out each morning when the light is right.
And by that I have been reminded of one of my favorite Rilke poems, one of the Sonnets to Orpheus translated by Stephen Mitchell, which speaks to my current despair as it has to other losses, sorrows, disappointments over the years.
When everything we create is far in spirit from the festive,
in the midst of our turbulent days let us think of what festivals were.
Look, they still play for us also, all of the Villa d’Este’s
glittering fountains, though some are no longer towering there.
Still, we are heirs to those gardens that poets once praise in their songs;
let us grasp our most urgent duty: to make them fully our own.
We perhaps are the last to be given such god-favored, fortunate Things,
their final chance to find an enduring home.
Let not one god pass away. We all need each of them now,
let each be valid for us, each image formed in the depths.
Don’t speak with the slightest disdain of whatever the heart can know.
Though we are no longer the ones for whom great festivals thrived,
this accomplishing fountain-jet that surges to us as strength
has traveled through aqueducts—in order, for our sake, to arrive.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
image: Dunadd Hill Fort, Wikipedia