There’s nothing like having a stroke to change the way you think about mindfulness. Sure, I had a conception of what it meant, what being mindful was all about. And in that notion was a root connected to raw awareness. But it seems I've been looking beyond that raw awareness and seeking something else that I thought was mindfulness.
That is, until I had a stroke.
It was a minor stroke, one cause by a clot in the vision center of my brain. It’s affected my peripheral vision on my left side in both eyes. Everything else – motor skills, speech, cognitive abilities, taste, smell – remain unaffected. To give you an idea, when I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a car, I can see just fine straight ahead. And I have normal peripheral vision to the right. But my vision ends at the center console. I can’t see the driver at all unless I turn my head.
Needless to say, I bump into doorways on the left side frequently because I can’t see the left side of the door jam. People or other moving objects coming up from behind me and passing on the left startle me because I don’t see them until they’ve already past and are almost in front of me. And unless I look directly at what I am reaching for, I may misjudge and fail to grasp it if it’s on my left.
There is a possibility that my field of vision may return to normal. Since my stroke, which was this past Friday, the blind spot has shrunk a bit. But it’s still there. It’s still significant.
In the meantime, I am learning some rather harsh and immediate lessons about mindfulness. And it’s changing the way I think about mindfulness. It’s not this overall gestalt that I used to think it as; rather it’s very specific. Mindfulness doesn’t just mean being aware of the world around me any longer. It means being aware of what I am doing right now in this world around me, and that means just a small part of this world around me, not this big expansive world that I had been thinking about.
My moment of realization was when I was being discharged from the hospital. I was elated I was finally getting out. I’d spent four days there waiting for tests to be completed. As I was gathering my belongings, I reached to my left for a Styrofoam cup of ice water I knew was there. But instead of grasping the cup, I closed my hand too soon, puncturing my thumb through the side of the Styrofoam and spilling water onto the table.
It was then I realized what being mindful really meant, what was really required of me. And it also made me aware of how I had taken for granted my awareness and my ‘mindfulness.’ No longer could I be casual about even the simplest thing like reaching for a cup of water. No longer could I be automatic while doing something as simple as walking through a doorway. When dining out, I must be extra sensitive to a server coming in from my left, or a glass or utensil on my left. And when I cross the street from now on, my life depends on my mindfulness more than it ever has before.
I’m actually finding all this quite thrilling. Believe me, if given a choice I would not want to reach such understanding by having a stroke. But I did have one. That can’t be changed. And now I’m ready for a new day.
I'm a content director for a television company, guiding content on Web sites. I'm an avid listener of Frank Zappa and a practicing Buddhist who follows the Theravada vehicle. I'm an insatiable traveler who calls Chicago home.