Being mindful when doing daily tasks is a lesson in informal meditation practice.
The Great Irish Poet Seamus Heaney died yesterday. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. In this youtube, he reads his poem, Blackberry Picking. This poem has always been a favorite of our family. As in all poetry, it has many layers of meaning. When our daughters were growing up, we spent several dinner conversations discussing the poem and what it meant to each of us.
Mindfulness is not hoarding experience but finding pleasure in the moment.
Being in the moment means being aware of the colors and smells, the taste, and the pain of scratched hands. There is an awareness that this moment will not last. It cannot last. No matter how much we want it to last, it will not. Our minds will inevitably move onto the next thought, and the next experience. Picking blackberries requires patience as ripe berries are often hidden in the brambles and you have to reach deep into the thicket to gently pull the tender berry from its lodging. It takes many berries to fill a pot. With that much work, the urge is to hurry through the task so we can either stuff ourselves or start the jam making. Whether it’s to gobble the berries so quickly, without tasting them–or to finish bottling jam so we can cross it off our list for the day–the sense experience of berry picking is lost. Eating freshly picked berries is one of life’s delights. Awareness of the briefness of those moments brings appreciation and attention to the simplest task. Trying to hoard the berries, just like hoarding experience will bring disappointment. In mindfulness practice, we learn to accept the moment knowing that it will fade into the next moment. If you keep the berries in the byre, they will rot and turn sour. Being mindful when doing daily tasks is a lesson in informal meditation practice.
The poem Blackberry Picking, shows how hoarding experiences for later, spoils the moment.
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
a rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
–Seamus Heaney 1939-2013
couples counseling, and Mindfulness-based therapies in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years.
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