Sometimes, rather than practicing mindfulness, we engage in an exercise in focus. We are casting about the past and future rather than “living richly in the present” (Sylvia Plath).
I call such an exercise ponding. In nature, ponding is the pooling of unwanted waters. In being, ponding is the absence of mindfulness, the pooling of thought outside the present.
As Plath reminds us, to live richly in the present is the “hardest thing” to do.
It is a lifetime practice.
Now, my home is the meandering rivers and ponds of the Florida panhandle, subtropical lushness.
That both the West and South offer life opportunity opposites—mile high to sea level—once occupied much of my thought and time.
Then, it was location, location, location rather than living richly in my present. I spent years pooling unwanted waters for the future, trying to re-create past ponds.
It never works, even as an exercise.
This past week I found myself at Chapman, a pond I once visited daily as my life in the South began.
I missed the rush of water, having little consideration for the life that teems within a pond.
All that changed within the comfort of Chapman, contained under canopied, moss-draped oaks and towering Ponderosa pine. Daily, I focused on the peace I attributed to Chapman pond, unaware the peace was within me, always available.
Of course, I was ponding, unaware of my life as I was living it, pooling up thoughts, the unwanted waters of my past and future.
I was fishing, a practice I began in childhood.
Always, I searched any and all waters to see if they supported fish. I had to know if there was life. Fishing would occupy me for decades. I practiced consistently.
As I aged, casting a line with no hook replaced catching a fish. With each cast, I did my best to imitate a fly afloat to tease a fish.
Whenever I went fishing, I was living richly, completely confined to the cast of the moment.
Perhaps it was the beginning of a mindfulness practice; perhaps, it was just fishing.
I gained a sense of the tide of time, the fisher and the fished, impermanence at its best.
There was no ponding, no thoughts of bigger or lesser fish or even the one that got away—only, the energy of the experience, the sensation that never stays.
I have not owned a rod and reel in years but still I fish.