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Mindfulness and the Gap
by Susan Keijo Sensemann

photograph by Susan Sensemann

photograph by Susan Sensemann

The ups and downs that are inherent to being human come to us at break-neck speed. I wrote ‘to us’ and not ‘at us.’  Each event that causes us to stop, pause, take stock, evaluate a way forward and push on through is a lesson when we take the time to bear witness to what is happening at any given moment. What I mean by ‘bear witness’ is to sit with the feelings that arise within our bodies as we muddle through shock, grief, sadness, loss and sometimes the awe of something as ordinary as watching a red maple leaf pirouette to the earth in late October. We weep with the leaf - its perfect spiral as it dances with the wind or dances to its own music. We might weep because we know that winter is bearing down. Some of us prefer warm beaches to wrapping scarves and wearing boots, but the earth is simply asking for a blanket until she yawns, stretches and pops forth with shades of green in April. That is poetic. 

What about the conversation, one word, that changes the course of life as we thought we knew it? Famine or feast. Angel or beast. The unknown. The not known. That which is not prescribed pre-planned, prepared as we expected or hoped. The diagnosis. The simple word “not.” Maybe the words “I love you.” Maybe the last breath of a beloved dog. Maybe the first breath that a granddaughter breathes as we question what sort of grandmother we might be. It’s all new.

It is a matter of stopping, noticing, feeling what is occurring in that very moment. To see and feel what is happening at any given time is mindfulness. To appreciate the possibility inherent to any moment’s unexpected presence might be called the Gap.

Mindfulness, our practice of meditation, helps us learn to stop, pause, breathe, and pay attention. We learn to swim in the gap. Bask in it if we like palm trees and warm waters, 

dance in it if we love rhythm and music. Or, sit in stillness and silence if that is where we locate our hearts. The Gap is the unexpected. To be in the Gap is our practice. Not knowing, bearing witness to whatever arises, knowing within the sacred space of our open hearts what it is that is arising and choosing to move with the flow that simply is an open heart. Sometimes that open heart hurts so much that we can hardly bear it. The sorrows, the joys. Mindfulness prepares us to dance with the unknown. Leonard Cohen wrote: There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. That is the Gap.

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302