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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 33 the ones I am engaged with. Even when I am away from my com- puter—on a bus, perhaps—I am often imagining my characters, being them instead of being myself. So is it possible for me to reconcile being mindful while living with fantasy and fiction? Young children often weave their way between fantasy and real- ity without distinguishing between them. A piece of wood picked up on a walk becomes a sword and suddenly the child is a knight. Then the wood becomes a magic wand and gives him the powers of a magician. To children, a favorite cuddly toy or doll can be as alive as any human being. I remember an interaction between a young child and woman in the street. The child was carrying a toy dog. Woman: What’s your doggie’s name? Child: Lucky. Woman: That’s nice. We have a dog called Lucky, a real dog. Child (slightly bemused): But Lucky is a real dog! Like this child, we adults also carry our fantasies around with us. Ours, though, are locked inside our heads. They are not as vis- ible as a toy. Our stories are powerful, shaping our views of the universe, ourselves, and other people. They can be dangerous too. How often have I worried about how someone will react to something or what someone wants from me? How often are our social interactions fundamentally empty because we are unable to approach each other with truth? Sometimes our fantasies are so negative that they poison the present. It’s understandable to worry while waiting for test results when faced with the real possibility that an illness is serious, but how often do we spend time poring over trivial symptoms on the Internet, convincing ourselves that Through the Looking Glass Literature and legends, fables and falsehoods—novelist ANNE DONOVAN on finding greater clarity though story. WHEN I WAS WEE I spent a lot of time at my aunties’ house, which was almost home away from home. The lower half of their kitchen window was made of bubbled glass, the kind you can’t see through. There was a flaw in the glass and I used to kneel on a chair and put my eye to the hole, pretending to be a spy. I could see only a tiny fragment of the garden: part of a bush, the top of a washing line, a sliver of blue or gray sky. The sting of cold air made my eyes water. Of course back then I had no idea what being mindful was, but to me that pinprick view, and the sharp, almost painful sensation that went with it, is the closest I can come to defining what it is to be in the present moment. It’s a truism that being present and mindful is the natural state of a child. Anyone who has watched children absorbed in play knows how they are so caught up in the moment. What I remem- ber most from my own childhood is putting a worm on a path to observe its slow progress and lying in my parents’ bed during the day when I was sick, watching the pattern of the wallpaper as though it were a moving image. My memory of these small things is more intense than my memory of many seemingly big- ger moments in my life. As adults we tend to lose that precious ability to be intensely in the moment, which is why the practice of mindfulness is crucial to enabling us to live more fully. Being mindful is often defined as paying attention to what is going on now rather than allowing yourself to slip into daydreams, thoughts, and plans. So when standing in a queue in the supermarket, instead of thinking of the next chore you have to do or the film you saw last night, you bring your attention to the person at the checkout and to the sounds and smells all around you. But I know that as a child, in addition to paying attention to the present, I also spent a huge amount of time daydreaming and living in a fantasy world. I was often told off for trying to read a book under the table or under the covers at night or for daydreaming when I should have been listening to something. Now, as a writer, I spend a lot of time in a fantasy world too, imagining people and scenarios other than PAINTINGBYGUSTAVADOLFHENNING.PHOTOBYBILDARCHIVPREUSSISCHERKULTURBESITZ/ARTRESOURCE,NY NOV 18-39.indd 33 NOV 18-39.indd 33 9/1/08 12:18:30 PM 9/1/08 12:18:30 PM