I’m writing this from my hometown of Lexington, MA (yes, the birthplace of America). I’m back for a week or so because my parents just sold their house, and I wanted to a) see it for the last time and b) get my junk out of my room.
A few observations about being back:
Familiarity works against mindfulness
Because everything is so familiar, I easily slip back into familiar routines. I know where everything is, run the same running routes, go to the same restaurants, etc. It’s familiar and unremarkable.
As a result of this familiarity, I find that I’m not paying attention.
The threat of loss increases mindfulness
As I mentioned earlier, my parents are selling the house. They’re not moving far from Lexington, but they will no longer be Lexington residents. I will no longer have a home to return to in Lexington.
The effect is that I then start noticing everything. I pay attention to the running routes, my favorite restaurants, the feelings and memories of this place.
Nostalgia forces me to be present.
This is a classic and well-observed phenomenon where you only value things when you’re about to lose them. Your attachments to something or someone or someplace rise to the surface and you regret not enjoying them more while they were still firmly in your possession.
The Buddha was quite aware of this when he observed that one source of suffering is change, or viparinama dukkhata. Our attachments to things that are impermanent eventually cause us suffering.
The great tragedy, though, is not that our attachment to an object will eventually cause us suffering, but rather, we fail to pay attention to the object when we have it!
I currently live in the DC area and I generally feel quite anxious about what my next “move” will be (a desire for progress). After college, I never really intended to live in DC again. I thought I would live in some place like San Diego forever (which I did end up doing for a year).
There is nothing wrong with DC. It’s actually a very nice place to live, and yet, I fail to pay attention to where I live. I have a lot of good things going for me, and I understand that someday, when and if I do move from DC, I will probably remember this period of time as one of the best times in my life.
And yet, I still take it for granted.
Unless we learn to take the practice of cultivating mindfulness seriously, we will only appreciate the places we live and the people in our lives when we are on the verge of losing them.
Or when your parents sell their house.