There once was a young man, in a distant, sleepy village, who wanted to change. Peering into his looking-glass every morning, he was dissatisfied with whoever that guy was looking back at him, with one ear slightly higher than the other. That guy had a hard time with stuff – things like laundry, burned pancakes, remembering to re-order contact lenses, and trash day.
None of these challenges were likely to put him in the stocks or get him kicked out of The Young Fool’s Bean-Planting Mastermind Group. But the missed steps and forgotten tasks occupied his brain and heart. They seemed to magically multiply, too, as if a curse had been placed on his way of thinking, such that one dropped ball created another. And another.
The postponed laundry meant searching through the closet for ten extra minutes most mornings, which meant getting stressed and worried and being late to market with the cows. Being late to market meant all the best stuff was already traded. He was usually resigned to wandering home through the Enchanted Forest with said cows, swatting errant gnomes away as he walked—the ability to trace back what misstep led to what, was ineffable.
And so he ruminated on these things, not understanding what to do.
One morning, Maurice (nope, not Jack, that’s another story) managed to get himself together to plant some seeds. The Crone in the next hamlet over had traded him these seeds for his last loaf of bread, and he figured he ought to give them a shot. Now Maurice had a decent-sized square of dirt in the backyard, especially if he moved the disassembled gas grill, the box of surplus Chia Pets, and the giant inflatable unicorn (all of which he got for next-to-nothing on eBay). He had no clue what these seeds were, and his innate curiosity helped him to get such a project going. Maybe they were the key to things moving in a more promising direction – perhaps they were even magical, and could lead to untold riches!!
But when he opened the velvet bag to scatter the contents…alas. The seeds were blackened (as if burned), dried up (as if ancient), and smelled awful (as if stored in a barn with wet dogs and old bottles of Drakkar Noir).
Well, now what? Maurice lamented, to no one in particular, “I guess I may as well not even try, because what’s the point? What if I plant them and nothing happens? What if I plant them, and something starts to come up, and I get excited, and then all the seedlings die? Or what if they grow something awful? Besides, I remember the last time I tried to plant seeds. I forgot to water them during the drought, and it was all a big waste. Now I’m going to waste more time. And what the heck was wrong with me, trading the bread? Crazy Old Esmerelda wasn’t so crazy, was she? I’ll bet she’s digging into a big plate of avocado toast with pumpkin seeds right now, made out of MY bread, laughing at my foolishness. Like everyone does. I wonder if these things used to be pumpkin seeds? I don’t even like pumpkins…”
And so on.
After staring at the seeds and talking to himself for a spell (because talking to ourselves, in this manner, is indeed its own kind of spell), Maurice finally looked up to see a woman standing at the edge of his plot of dirt, watching him. Somehow, he wasn’t startled, although no one had ever looked at him quite the way this woman did. Not angry or judgmental, but not exactly friendly either. It was like she was frozen in the moment, seeing him exactly as he was, uneven ears and all – and couldn’t care less. If you had asked Maurice to describe her, he would not have much detail to share. Ageless, maybe? Anyway, what she looked like wasn’t the point.
She spoke, “Hey there, Mo. What’s up with the stinky seeds?”
“I don’t know,” he replied with a heavy sigh. “I don’t ever seem to use very good sense about this sort of thing.”
“Hm.” She looked off into the distance for a moment. “Wanna try something? What if you look at those things you’re holding in your hand very closely right now, without labeling them?”
Maurice was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
She continued patiently, “I mean, could you try noticing them, exactly as they are, without thinking about the idea that they’re seeds? Without considering the meaning of their shape, their color, their…um, distinctive smell?”
She paused for a moment. “What happens if you do that?”
“Well, I feel a little less apprehensive, I guess. But what if…?”
“Hang on,” the woman interrupted (although not in an unkind way). For nothing other than dramatic effect, she approached and waved her hands about in a fairy-godmother-y sort of flourish. “Stay with where you are right now. Breathe.”
Maurice suddenly realized he hadn’t been breathing. Not fully, anyway. How the heck did she know?
“Take in everything you can notice about those objects. No labels, no judgments.”
As Maurice started to breathe and follow her instruction, an unusual feeling came over him. A kind of quiet. If he didn’t judge the seeds’ color or smell as signs of complete, total, abject ruin, he could stay open for a moment. He could reignite a bit of that curiosity. What could his observations tell him? He could see other details he initially missed (was that a tiny speck of green emerging from one of them?). He could relax the urge to hurl them against the inflatable unicorn in disgust. When he noticed the new feeling, he didn’t even label that. It was just a feeling. He didn’t have to ride that wave, unless he wanted to.
“Whaddya know? This business of staying with things, and noticing – I think it could save me a fair amount of time and trouble! I don’t feel as frustrated or upset. I kind of want to…do something. What is this sorcery!? “
When he looked up again, the woman was holding a mirror. His own looking-glass, in fact.
“I wonder what would happen if you looked at yourself similarly?”
OK, to be totally honest, Mo was not up for that nonsense. “Sorry, Mysterious Woman, that’s a troll’s bridge too far.” She shrugged, and the mirror disappeared.
Still, it was a start to breaking, or perhaps checking, the haze he routinely put himself under: The Spell of Mindlessness. If he possessed enough magic to put himself under, he surely had enough to pause occasionally and gently guide himself out.
The woman came and sat next to Maurice. “What would you like to do now?” she asked.
Maurice decided to go ahead and put the seeds in the ground. Ah, a decision made! And what did he have to lose at this point? He decided a few other things, too – he could head inside and order his contacts, make some pancakes without getting too distracted, and maybe set his alarm for the following day. “Would you like to stay for breakfast?” he asked Mysterious Woman.
“No, thank you,” she replied. “My work here is done; besides, I’ve already got my toast.”
And so she bid him goodbye, munching contentedly, and set off down the road,
Maurice kept working with this new idea, pausing, watching, and noticing. Breathing to remind himself to let go of the incessant, internal talk. He had to make the magic a practice, to make it powerful and meaningful.
At this point, I’d love to tell you that Maurice’s planting efforts became a whole crop of enchanted wheat, and that he always looked in the mirror in a non-judgmental way that helped him be kind to himself. It would be great to say that he was always on time with the cows, and lived happily ever after. But the truth is, being mindful, while it can indeed break spells, doesn’t happen at the drop of a wand (or a handful of seeds).