I don’t know if you have ever read or seen Ambrose Bierce’s “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but yesterday, walking mindfully through Baltimore on my way to a photo shoot for my new gig writing for our local paper, I had one of those “occurrences” in everything that I saw, heard, and felt.
If you aren’t familiar with Bierce’s short story, “Occurrence” is about a man who is hanged for treason during the Civil War. In the process of being hanged, though, the noose breaks, and he embarks on an all-senses-heightened run back home to his wife. (I have included the video at the end of this post. Really– it’s an Oscar-winning classic short film by filmmaker Robert Enrico).
No. I didn’t feel like I was being hanged. It was the other part — the all-senses-heightened experience that I was mindful of: brilliant colors brought to life by a descending sun, the intricate textures and architecture in the buildings, and the people– the people! I was blown away by the surprise on some people’s faces when I looked into their eyes and smiled as we passed by. There was life there, a sudden belief that they were acknowledged, even appreciated without judgment. The energy we shared in the simple exchange of smiles was exhilarating.
It was all available to me simply by walking mindfully as I went from the Light Rail train to the Baltimore Sun building on N. Calvert Street.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is all about awareness and staying in the present, with open appreciation and gratitude. I could have occupied my walk with plenty of worries and fears about meeting the individuals I am now working with at the paper. As well, I could have stressed the entire way about getting back in time to pick up my daughter before 5 p.m.
What if the photographer has a line of people waiting for head shots?
What if my editor is in a meeting and I have to wait?
What if the trains are running late?
Nope. Waste of energy. Every single one of those thoughts. At that precise moment when I stepped off my train and started walking toward the Sun building, not one of those what-ifs was in my control. If I kept my focus on there, an hour in the future, I would have passed up the mindful walk that centered me and enriched my experience in Baltimore.
Walking mindfully is having an awareness of your surroundings It is simpler than you might think.
Yesterday, in my walk through Baltimore, my mindfulness allowed me to experience, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, “perfect sweetness [in] the independence of solitude,” as Emerson wrote in his essay, “Self Reliance.”
Mindfulness Is Available to All of Us
Mindfulness has been around for centuries, and it continues to be practiced everywhere — in the workplace and in the schools. According to Cara Moulds, an energy-shifting, confidence-building possibilitarian, it is anything but a fad.
If you simply look at the many examples of how mindfulness is already being incorporated into business and education, you can see that this is much more than a trend. And also, consider the scientific research being released to show the benefits both in employee productivity and student test scores, not to mention well-being and compassion toward others.
Still, many people align being mindful with some deep religious sect or cult. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a very simple tool to help us live more creatively and fully, every day of our lives.
Meghan Vivo does a wonderful job debunking the myths of mindfulness in her article, “8 Misconceptions About Mindfulness.”
Mindfulness is a quality and a tool – a very powerful one. It won’t, by itself, bring eternal bliss or answer all of life’s questions, but it can bring a sense of connectedness and peace to the practitioner, which can translate into fewer self-defeating behaviors. . . . It also helps cultivate other qualities, such as wisdom and compassion, that lead ultimately to greater satisfaction, even in difficult circumstances.
We don’t have to join some kind of group or live our lives any differently; the difference is that we need to understand that the powers of mindfulness are within us, right now. Once we understand that, everything suddenly becomes possible in our lives, even when taking a simple walk in Baltimore City.
Here’s the short film, “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Robert Enrico:
About Rus VanWestervelt: I am a pretty mindful guy who teaches writing, creativity, and — yes — even mindfulness. My eCourses have received great praise over the years, and I would love to work with you. Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or find me on Twitter (@rusvw) or Facebook (facebook.com/RusVanWesterveltWriter). My fall classes will begin mid-August. I am looking forward to working with you!
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