Thursday, September 20, 2012

Shuttle Endeavour's great lesson in mindfulness

The events of yesterday provided a particularly stark opportunity to illustrate the core of the Buddhist belief system, and what can result when that wisdom is not heeded. 

Specifically, Buddhism places tremendous emphasis on the moment.  Buddhism argues that, in the absence of intentional mindful effort to the contrary, we humans tend to live in deluded imaginary self-made worlds characterized by ignorance, of which craving and aversion are the dominant manifestations.  This selective "way of being" separates us from ultimate truth, which is found only within the raw contents of the moment, rather than within our constantly-flowing and imaginatively-stunted ideas of what each moment should contain based on our past experiences and/or future expectations. 

Houston, the original "Eagle has landed" space city, was not granted a retired space shuttle for museum display.  Public reactions to that original decision understandably ranged from sorrow to horror, and Endeavour's scheduled stop-over in Houston yesterday re-opened those old wounds for many local people.  The common expressions in the mainstream news media furnished succinct examples of moment-ignorance (paraphrased here):
  • "We must have a shuttle!" (= craving). 
  • "We can't possibly accept the decision not to grant us a shuttle!" (= aversion)
But while all that hand-wringing and gnashing-of-teeth was going on, we collectively transitioned through some moments that were truly spectacular, as all moments are in their own individual ways.
Shuttle Endeavour, piggybacked on its carrier aircraft and flying very, very low over the south side of Houston yesterday morning, in a spectacular salute to the NASA workers and their families who have devoted so much of themselves to the support of the American space program over the past 34 years of shuttle operational history. 
Those people who appeared preoccupied with shuttle-related judgmental craving and aversion:  did they SEE what actually happened in those moments?! 
Endeavour with her chase plane.
Because of security concerns, fly-over details were not released to the public ahead of this event.  Nobody knew in advance what was going to happen.  In this respect, Endeavour's fly-over was a parable of life itself. 
Were those people present?  Did they hear the local children screaming and clapping at the sight of this?  Did they feel the type of compassion and wonder that can only come from experiencing the world with child-like perception?  Did they realize that they were standing in one of the most remarkable moments in human history?  Or were they largely absent from that moment, dwelling in their own minds instead of in the remarkable reality that was unfolding, fretting abstractedly about what we as a city received or did not receive?

I don't think many of those people were there in those moments.  I think they largely missed them, to their profound detriment. 

Houston may not have gotten a shuttle, and perhaps something should eventually be done in mindful response to that fact.  But in those specific moments yesterday, what we did get was one hell of a "Thank you". And in those moments, that was much more than enough. 
St. Bernadette's got it right.  No hand-wringing, no political overtones - just a reverent projection of good will.

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