“Everything that I experience from moment to moment, from day to day, is my responsibility”: Kevin Johnson on mindfulness and living in the moment

by DGO Web Administrator

It’s a snappy afternoon, and Durango Coffee Company is humming when I spot Kevin Johnson reading in the corner. He smiles broadly, showing all of his teeth when I ask if I might speak with him for a while. I ask him who he’s apologized to most recently and what that experience was like for him. I think he’s being cavalier- that he’s joking- when he says, “Oh, let’s see. I apologized to myself most recently,” but as it turns out, Kevin is an intensely earnest guy. I tell his story here, in his own words.

Oh, let’s see. I apologized to myself most recently. I do it every day. I have to. We distract ourselves with whatever it is that’s off our pursuit. That distraction is something that we need to recognize, but hopefully refine how we deal with it over time. It’s sort of like stubbing your toe. “Argh! I acknowledge that I just did that. I wish it hadn’t happened, but I’ve got to keep moving.” It’s more of being present with it, but not giving it power.

Most often, I get in my own way with ego-related centricity. Any time in which you start placing value on an experience or what an action or thought might lead to, positioning value that’s pushing toward some future endeavor, like accumulating experience or wealth or skill, then that, to me, needs apologizing for. It’s preventing a level of being present with what you’re doing just then, when you focus on what you’re doing next.

We don’t really have anything other than the present moment. There’s not a sense of being involved with what we did last year, or what we’re going to do tomorrow. That’s something that we can theorize about, but it’s not really what we’re doing or what we’re a part of. I haven’t always thought like this. That’s where the apology comes in. It’s been a slow refining. There was much more temptation in the past to project value toward a future goal or desire – or comparing it to something that I had done in the past that I wanted to duplicate or modify in some way that was building from that previous experience into something that I felt like I could manipulate or predict.

I was about 27, taking a road trip across Northern Idaho and it had been raining for three or four days. It’s sort of hard to enjoy one’s surroundings when it’s raining so hard that you can’t see across the road, you know? I pulled over and was doing some reading – Thich Nhat Hahn, Jean-Paul Sarte – and something clicked within the relation between Buddhism and Existentialism where it more or less suggested that everything that I experience from moment to moment, from day to day, is my responsibility. So I have to find a way, in order to incorporate myself and my presence, to creating a moment-to-moment, thought-to-thought, feeling-to-feeling existence that I want to experience. No one else is going to do that for me. It’s my responsibility. My conception of how internalized time really functions became distinctly different from, say, the way we would approach building a house or writing a story where there are pieces that we can put together. That moment really clicked some sort of awareness that our internal progress, our emotional/intellectual “building” comes in these sorts of dynamic shifts that aren’t necessarily in predictable stages where we can manipulate them in conscious, observable ways.

I work at Maria’s. Customer service – extroversion – is easier to have a revolving sense of that moment-to-moment. You’re involved with another energy, whereas when you’re by yourself or traveling alone, it’s much easier to get in your own way with whatever particular distraction you might have. Whether it’s thinking, “I need to be doing the laundry,” or “The dishes have piled up,” when you’re actually trying to create a piece of music or something. Whereas when you’re in the presence of someone else, they’re constantly asking for your attention, so it’s bringing you more into the moment in a way that there’s a greater stimulus than your own initiative. They’re asking for your participation. It’s easier to retain a sort of “in the moment” when that moment is constantly changing and asking for you to be a part of it. If you’re just trying to maneuver your way through things to create your own experience, then it really takes something out of the ordinary to bring your attention out of your own distraction.

Cyle Talley has rediscovered his passion for peanut butter and jelly. Email him at: [email protected], if you’re so inclined.

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