Mind Your Line

There’s an old adage: “All fishermen get the same number of bites. The difference between those who catch the fish and those who don’t is whether or not they pay attention to their line.” The fly fishermen among us are already preparing a litany of reasons why this is a woefully incomplete adage, but I think they would all agree on the virtues of paying attention.

I’m a terrible trout fisherman. I’ve only caught a few fish in my career, mostly tiny browns. Despite this lousy track record, I went through a period of obsession with fly fishing. As the saying goes, “If I’m going to not catch fish, I’d rather do it with flies.”  I’ve stood for hours in the Roaring Fork and in the Frying Pan and cast, watching my fly hit the surface of the water. I’ve carefully mended my line to match the currents and eddies, subtly negotiating my footing in the strong, cold current. I’ve stared below the shimmering surface into the murky brown depths waiting for the delicious tension to break with a strike.

Standing in the river, I’ve always felt a profound sense of vividness. Everything around me comes into sharp relief. My mind stops. Time slows down and opens up, as if suddenly given more space to exist. It’s as though, instead of one elusive minute, I’m given 60 vivid seconds.

As I’ve done more and more mindfulness meditation with John Bruna and the Mindful Life Program in Carbondale, I’ve come to believe that this vividness of experience is available all the time, or if not all the time, at least, any time we choose. Our minds are constantly distracting us, dragging us through myriad thoughts and images, demanding our attention, breaking our line to the present.

When I was a student at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, my dorm parent, Jesse Boyce, wrote to my parents, “Seth behaves in the dorm like a gibbon on acid.”

Honestly, I think that’s a pretty fair description of my mind. Sometimes this relentless mind activity causes me to miss whole episodes in my life. I’ve had mornings where I can’t remember taking a shower, but my hair is wet, or, much worse, times where my children are speaking to me while I’m someplace else.

But I’m getting better at practicing paying attention to the present. When I do, I sometimes experience that same vividness that I get on the river. The fish are there to be caught… and gently released. But each of us must mind our own lines.