For several snowy Montana months we looked forward to a winter vacation in Hawaii. A particular thrill for me going there is seeing humpback whales that migrate to the warm waters from Alaska. So, I was especially excited one of our days as we made our way to an eco-adventure to see the whales, with two marine naturalist guides.
I’ve been on a few whale watching trips, so it came as no surprise that in peak whale season our boat was at capacity; as sightings increased so did jockeying for better seeing positions; and not everyone followed protocol to allow children to move up front.
What did, however, surprise me came an hour into the trip. By then, we’d been treated to breaches, tail slapping, and fluke dives, even glimpsing an aggressive fighting pod. The whales had shown themselves in various places so everyone aboard had good sightings.
When it happened, I was standing on the top deck with one hand on a chair back to steady myself against the rocking of the boat, when someone called out a sighting. Immediately the man behind me shoved me out of his way so he could run closer for a picture. If I hadn’t been holding on, I’d have fallen.
That shove got me thinking. It wasn’t his lack of “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” which surprised me most; it was his not seeing me. Sure, he saw me enough to push me out of his way, but he didn’t “see” what his actions were doing to me. He went after what he wanted like many of us do. We may not physically shove each other aside, but we do push out others when we’re myopically fixated on what we want.
Do people holding up an order line to finish texting during lunch-rush not notice they’re inconveniencing dozens? Are those people talking loudly in public with every fourth word an unprintable one, unconcerned that small children can hear them? It’s as if we think we’re living alone on a deserted island with only ourselves to consider.
Against a backdrop of ubiquitous behaviors like these, there’s also a growing interest in mindfulness. While some interpret being present in the moment as “what I want to do right now,” or how to make every moment count for me, real mindfulness requires being conscious in the moment, putting our attention there, and being aware. It challenges us to contribute to the greater good.
I believe, in the scheme of things, we need more mindful awareness about how our actions affect others. When our moments intersect – when that shove comes – it’s their moment, too. As critic John Andrew Holmes so aptly wrote, “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.”