Last week I went on a ten day Vipassana meditation course. You don’t get much of an opportunity to talk with others, so I know very little about most of the people who joined me. Ages ranged, I believe, from eighteen to mid-sixties. Economic backgrounds varied. The course has a policy of no fees, only donations – you pay what you can afford and feel is appropriate. Thus, people with very little money come on the course – I know this because I talked with two people who fit in that category, who had struggled to pay for transport to get to the Centre. The racial and ethnic diversity of my fellow meditators was very mixed (to my delight): British, American, Sri Lankan, Jamaican, Ukranian, Chinese, Irish and others I’m sure. We displayed various shades of skin colour. I mention all this to make it clear that, in writing this post, I’m not referring to a particular set of people based on class, race or ethnicity. My observation is a general one – and my observation is this: we – people – are careless, very careless. And this carelessness is no doubt damaging us on a day-to-day basis.
What led me to this observation – brought it front of mind during the meditation course? Shoes.
The course site includes a large meditation hall. When you enter that building – the Dhamma Hall – you take off your shoes before going into the main room. You do the same when entering your sleeping quarters. One day, I found myself in the Hall observing the way many people had turned shoes with laces into slip-ons. That is, they stopped tying and untying their shoes and instead flattened out the heel support at the back of the shoe. In many of the shoes I saw, e.g., trainers (sneakers, if you are from the US), this involves cracking the back of the shoe. It is taking a perfectly good shoe and wrecking it.
A few days before attending the course, I had read something about a shoe company that makes bespoke shoes and I think – though I might be mis-remembering this – for every pair they make for paying customers, they create a pair to send to a child living in poverty. This bit of information came to mind, as I looked at all those broken shoes. Outrage bubbled up inside me as I thought about how people around the world would value having a decent pair of shoes and here were all these people ruining their shoes because they could not be bothered to tie and untie them when they entered the hall and their accommodations.
Careless. Totally careless.
We are so accustomed to having our basic needs met that we take them absolutely for granted. We also create waste – those crushed-heel shoes will last a lot less longer, which means new purchases, new shoemaking, new waste. Of course, all this was additionally maddening given where we were – a meditation centre where we were strengthening our capacity to be self-aware.
And I started wondering – what else are we careless about? I say ‘we’ even though I had purposefully brought a pair of clogs to the Centre, knowing my shoes would be regularly coming on and off. While I might not have been careless about my shoes, I’m sure I’m often careless in life – materially, linguistically, emotionally, physically.
We all must be quite careless as we multi-task and rush through our days.
No serious harm was done by people breaking the heels in their shoes and perhaps some people only brought already broken shoes with them for this purpose. Regardless, staring at those broken heel supports, I thought about how carefully someone who owns one pair of shoes will tend to them and value them – do everything they can to keep those shoes in good condition.
Imagine if we all regularly paused to think about what we are doing, and saying, how we are carrying our bodies as we move and sit, the impact of our always trying to do various tasks all at the same time.
How would our lives change if we were all more careful? This isn’t in opposition to risk-taking – I’m all for taking risks in the form of leaps into the unknown. This is careful in the sense of having awareness of how we are being, doing and impacting on our selves and the world around us – when we are careless who and what are we de-valuing and breaking down? Who and what are we pushing into a state of total disrepair? Who and what are we failing to keep in good condition?
In what ways – for whom and in what activities – can you be more full of care?