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Gloria Masters: Mindless relaxation is difficult to achieve

On a recent morning, I awoke to sunshine and a perfect fall temperature. The air was crisp and clear. I thought to myself: I am glad to be alive! How will I make the most of this beautiful day?

I know, I will walk in the park, or read on the lawn, or stop for coffee at an outside café. I will listen to others jabber happily as they sip or read. That’s my cup of tea – or coffee. I will watch and imagine scenarios about other people’s lives. I will smile at everyone I see – man, child or dog.

I should be working on my painting, but that can wait. What if I lose the light? I begin to feel the stress of time marching on, as daylight wanes. I can’t really think of myself as a serious artist if I have to wait for a rainy day to get to work, can I?

Oh, come on! Nobody should waste a gorgeous day like this. I must act more like a bird. A bird would stretch its wings and zoom freely through the cloudless sky.

We are all supposed to accomplish something meaningful in our day, right? This, we are told, should make us feel productive and happy. What if our accomplishment was to revel in the now? Would that count?

I decide to have a peaceful Zen day. I will enjoy the freedom of non-engagement, with no particular purpose. The idea is to have no purpose. But is that in itself a purpose? Oh, no! I can only think in the now in order to achieve this goal. Wait – goal? That sounds like an accomplishment of some sort.

Walking aimlessly along a crowded street, I try not to observe too closely the direction I take. Gazing at the bluest sky, I finally wander into a store. The smell of cinnamon, curry and unvarnished wooden floors is wafting throughout. Ah, this is the perfect atmosphere to awaken the senses to a Zen experience.

I select an organic oatmeal cookie, then grab a newspaper. But the headlines shout “war,” so I replace it. Now, seated at a small umbrella table outside, I am ready to enjoy my treat.

Whaaaaaaa! A baby at the next table begins to howl. His mother is on her cellphone, oblivious to his distress. Stay calm, I think to myself, but I feel my blood pressure rising. It appears young people today are simply uninterested in their offspring. Hmm, should I be more compassionate? I am forced to move on.

It occurs to me that I have not checked the time. Time? The time is now. Cheating, I gaze at the position of the sun and determine it to be mid-afternoon. Too soon to go home, I head for the park.

While peacefully strolling around the lake, I congratulate myself on the tremendous effort I am putting into being one with nature. A smug grin appears on my face. Smug? Now, there’s a word that denotes self-satisfaction. Who do I think I am anyway?

I must clear my mind of all self-absorption and stay focused in between the beginning and the end. Remembering some saying about “the joy is in the journey, not the destination,” I plod on. My journey in the now has now been reduced to purposeless wandering.

Something seems to be missing in my lovely day. I am not happy; I am tired. So I might as well go home and paint, because this mindless relaxation is just too much work for me.