Next week, I leave Vienna after a year’s sojourn in the city. Over the past 12 months, I’ve enjoyed many quintessentially Viennese experiences: I went to balls, explored the elegant city on foot, romped in the Vienna woods, drank coffee (and more coffee) and tasted delicious pastries.
Now, during my last days in the city, I’m revisiting a few of my favorite places while still finding surprises. While doing so, I’m working on mindfulness to help me stay here, mentally, until it’s time to depart.
Mindfulness means paying attention to present-moment experience; it’s a mental skill for witnessing your awareness in real time. With mindfulness, everything seems more vivid… or, more accurately, mindfulness enhances direct experience. It’s not that mindfulness makes external “things” become sharper, rather mindfulness allows us to focus more vividly. When life is pleasant, mindfulness heightens pleasure. When life is painful, well, mindfulness means you really know pain, and that’s the prerequisite for working constructively with and through the pain.
But, right now I’m not in pain. I’m in Vienna, at the tail end of a glorious experience involving lemon meringue pie. Seriously.
Mindfulness applies to eating lemon meringue perfectly. What a wonderful opportunity to increase awareness of the senses and pay attention to looking, smelling, tasting and feeling texture. It’s also about watching the sequence of the mind’s movement from direct sensation, to labeling experience, to placing it in context and taking action (or not) in response.
Here’s how it went for me today at Café Sluka in the center of Vienna. I walked in and stopped still in front of the pastry counter, gaping. That first glance was pre-verbal, pre-conceptual. I just “saw” it.
Then my thinking mind kicked in and the “it” became a piece of lemon meringue pie with a thin layer of buttery and perfectly flaky crust. The yellow of the lemon custard was gentle and rich. The custard was smooth and airy. Best of all, there were three inches (I kid you not) of meringue on top. Three inches of sweet, soft, light egg-white foam on a wave of lemon yellow.
Amazing. And that was when I noticed the sound of inner judgment. I realized, “This has to be the mother of all lemon meringue pies.”
Finally came the strong sense of desire. I wanted a piece of that pie. Then, I savored each mouthful until it was all gone. In the end, the pie was perfect, in all ways including size. In that moment, my desire was satiated and satisfaction remained.
I practiced mindfulness with my pie and watched the progression from first glance, taste, perception of texture and smell to analysis, and then comparison. I also realized that my mind wandered off-pie from time to time, which let me refocus, again, on the here and now.
After the final bite, I was aware of having fully enjoyed the experience of that lemon meringue pie. And then I realized that being fully in an experience facilitates letting the experience pass into the realm of memory without nostalgia or regret, or planning for “just one more.”
That’s really the point of practicing mindfulness (and eating pie), isn’t it? I mean: Gaining a sense of experiential certainty that being here fully, right now, keeps us balanced on the edge of time without doubt about having truly lived.
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