“The Clouds Echo My Name”

Practicing Mindfulness,

by Barbara Crooker

I turn into an egret, lifting one leg,
then the other, a slow dancer, concentrating
on what might lie beneath the thin skin
of the pond, pulling all my thought
into the slim needle of my lethal beak.
No guilt. That silver fish is mine. I
am pure, the absence of color, the moon
fallen to earth. Peony petals, plumes
of thick wet snow. Luminous
origami. The clouds echo my name.
When I take wing, there’s my double,
reflected in the water’s gray silk.
Someone ought to draw me, perhaps
an elderly Chinese painter using
a brush made of goat hair or pig bristle.
Embellished on a screen, I will patiently
wade there forever or burst into bloom,
a water lily floating up to the sky.

From Some Glad Morning.
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019.
Reprinted with permission.

We hear the word “mindfulness” quite often these days, referring to the kind of focus that we associate with the practice of meditation. Yet it is also much more than simply paying attention. As Brother David Steindl-Rast has written: “Think of mindful people: They are rooted in their bodies. They are alive in their bodies. And it’s significant we don’t have a word for that, that we just call it mindful. It indicates there is something lacking; when a word is lacking in a language, there is some insight lacking—the insight that full aliveness is mindfulness.” Though it might seem too plain, maybe “full aliveness” is the best name we have for the complex mix of joy, sadness, gratefulness, and grief that can arise all at the same time in what we think of as a mindful moment.

In “Practicing Mindfulness,” from her lovely new collection, Some Glad Morning, Barbara Crooker writes: “I/am pure, the absence of color, the moon/fallen to earth.” She embodies the feelings of total aliveness that can accompany the practice of mindfulness, when with our whole body, mind, and soul we pay such deep attention to what we’re doing, we become like the egret searching for its meal, “pulling all my thought/into the slim needle of my lethal beak.” If you’ve ever happened upon an animal hunting in the wild like this—an egret, heron, or hawk perhaps—you know the kind of stillness and single-minded focus described here. And if you’ve ever dropped into the pure joy of completing a simple task like sweeping the floors, or felt yourself engaged in the “flow” of talking to a dear friend, weeding the garden or fixing a car, then you know what it means to feel the full aliveness of mindfulness. The final lines of the poem also capture exactly the opening within us that can occur when we commit to this practice, how we might eventually “burst into bloom,” feeling so light and free we become like “a water lily floating up to the sky.”

Invitation for Writing and Reflection: Think back to a time when you felt most mindful and alive, lost in the flow of whatever you were doing, and describe that situation, how it felt to be so fully engaged. You might also start with Barbara Crooker’s beginning phrase, “Practicing mindfulness, I turn into . . .” and fill in the blank, letting the poem carry you forward into your own insights.

—James Crews