Meditation in the Maze

Brian Riefler - Ecuador

November 21, 2012

Having had a Jesuit high-school education, I have been taught the value of reflection, which I believe is vital to staying centered on life, family, and most importantly to God. Kairos, a three-day retreat at most Jesuit high schools, is named for the Greek term meaning “The Lord’s time” and is vastly different from linear time because it invites us to escape from our typical, clock-ruled lives—no watch, no cellphone, no Facebook. It is so important to take time to stop, breathe, and “smell the roses” as the saying goes. You do not necessarily have to do this in a religious context nor for three days however. I believe everybody can take minute-long vacations throughout the day no matter how busy he is.

Have you ever been taking the bus and arrived at your destination only to realize you have not noticed anything or anyone during the ride? I will guess the answer is yes. This is a common example of “mindlessness.” An important antidote to this tendency of spacing out is to practice “mindfulness,” in which we are conscious of everything we are experiencing. Mindfulness has been implemented by educators to teach students how to focus and by big companies such as General Mills, Google, and Target to reduce high levels of stress and improve performance.  Read the Financial Times article about mindfulness here.  At Global Citizen Year, we also use these tools of awareness, and when they sent us the aforementioned article for some Fellows to respond to, I thought it would be appropriate to volunteer.

I found myself practicing mindfulness in my Amazonian community outside of Tena, Ecuador. My host grandmother and I walked deep into the labyrinthine jungle to harvest fruit, and she told me to wait for her because she did not want the thorns on the path to prick me. So I waited, and forty-five minutes later she did not return. I became anxious and decided to meditate. I picked guaba and savored every bite. I felt the pressure of my feet against my sandals and the ants crawling on them. And I heard the rustling of leaves in the breeze. I was not just physically still but mentally calm as well. I let my anxieties drift away, and with a recharged mind, I was ready to deal with my problem: I walked ten minutes on a straight path so I would not get lost, and I eventually found my host grandmother still macheting guaba. I guess I could have been mad at her for not realizing how much time had passed, but I chose to be compassionate; her basket was full, and I could not help but admire her hard work. The compassion to myself translated to compassion for others.

I encourage you to try mindfulness yourself, and I would love to hear any stories where it was useful. I leave you with a fitting quote by Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”


Brian Riefler