About 10 years ago, my wife, Janice, asked a question that scared me to death. She asked: “Did you notice anything different in the front room?”
I looked around the room. It looked the same as always. After a period of struggle and fear, I asked, “Could you tell me in which quadrant it’s different?”
As is probably clear by now, I am not very sensate. Some women say, “All men are like that.” Not true. I know some very sensate men. I am not one of them.
About the same time, I realized my time of meditation had little connection to the rest of my life. I did my daily meditation, crossed it off my to-do list and moved onto the next thing.
Knowing I wanted to be more sensate and connect my meditation to the rest of my life, I pulled an old article from my file tilted, “Contemplation: A Long Loving Look at the Real” by Walter Burghardt.
Burghardt explained a way to bring contemplation — or meditation — into the rest of your daily life. He took each word and wrote about it in detail.
The real: The real is the sun rising over the bluffs, a ruddy glass of Burgundy wine, a doe streaking through Hixon Forest, a child lapping chocolate ice cream. The real is what philosophers call the concrete singular.
Here is how I lost touch with the real. When I was young, I analyzed each of my mother’s garden flowers. I noticed the stems, the different colors, the shape of the stamens and how each one opened in the morning and closed at night.
Then I learned they were all tulips. When I observed them for the next 40 years, I put them into the file folder in my brain marked “tulips” and never spent any time again with concrete, singular tulips — that is, with “real” tulips. I ceased being sensate.
A look: When I look meditatively, I try to not describe or define the object. Instead, I enter into it. As Burghardt writes, “Lounging by a stream, I do not exclaim ‘Ah, H2O!’ I let the water trickle gently through my fingers.” As Eric Gill once protested, “Good Lord, the thing was a mystery. and we measured it!” Walter Kerr compared this form of contemplation to falling in love — in love with the singular beauty of all of creation. We look not only with our minds, but with our eyes and ears and the senses of smelling, touching and tasting.
A long look: For many Americans, life is a constant rush. Time is money. We must get through our entire to-do list to be successful. A long look is wonderfully unhurried. We do not time the New York Symphony, and we do not clock moments of intimate conversation with a dear friend.
A loving look: The contemplative look is not a fixed stare — it is a look filled with compassion. “For contemplation is not study, not cold examination, not a computer. To contemplate is to be in love,” Burghardt said.
Contemplation does not always bring about delight. The real includes AIDS and multiple sclerosis, poverty and race, the bombing of innocent Syrian citizens and the mass killing of high school students. Yet the real I contemplate must end in compassion, a synonym for love.
What do I do now? I try to slow myself down to take a long loving look at the real that comes into my life. When I do this, each day is an exciting adventure. Whenever I spiritually companion others, each meeting is unique. I am not bored by life. Everything is new. I have not experienced the concrete real of this day before.
Some days I fail. My looks are rushed and not loving. Then I try to begin my afternoon meditation by running a video in my head of the past 24 hours. I stop to take a long loving look of what shows up in the video. My heart hopefully moves to gratitude for all I have experienced.
Now I am more sensate.
Recently, I complimented Janice on her new haircut. She thanked me and told me she got the haircut two days ago. I am not quite there yet.