A mindful song

Guaranteed, by Eddie Vedder, for the soundtrack of the film Into the Wild, is a beautiful song. It has a gorgeous picked guitar line, and insightful, sad lyrics. It won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. The movie is also all these things, insightful, sad, beautiful. It tells the story of Christopher McCandless, who travelled across North America, eventually spending a solo winter in the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless eventually passed away in the wild. He was 24 years old. Many have speculated that McCandless may have had a mental illness, or traumatic experiences in his past, and that his trek was an effort to escape. It is certainly portrayed that way in the film.

When I first watched the film, I didn’t know the story was real. The film takes us right to the end of the young man’s life, and right up until the epilogue explained, I expected someone to rescue him. I was shocked, terrified, and full of ache and longing and sympathy. I had vividly dreamed of such an escape. I desperately wanted to get away from myself, and find solace in trees and wind and solitude. Away from everything that made me angry, from tears and from dependence.

One of the hardest lessons to learn from mindfulness is, as Jon Kabat Zinn puts it, “Wherever you go, there you are.” There is no escape from the self, and at times that has been as disheartening and exhausting as any and all stresses that wriggle around in my life.

That’s why Vedder’s song is so powerful. Smack in the middle, is a 2 minute and 5 second silence. You are left alone, at the end of such a film, or in the middle of whatever you’re doing when your playlist winds its way around to Guaranteed, alone with no one but yourself. Perhaps your typing fingers. If the song somehow found its way into a party playlist, there is suddenly no more background – only you and the people in the room. It is a jolt back to reality, as well as a peaceful quiet. It is surprising, unique among pop music, frustrating, relaxing, eerie, and magical. I think it’s rather genius.

Apparently, I’m in the minority. Trying to find a full clip of the song on Youtube was not easy. Most clips cut the 125 seconds of silence in the middle, shortening the song dramatically. I don’t think this is simply about upload time or space – this is about people thinking the silence is useless. It’s not; it’s crucial.

The silence is the ultimate mindful moment. It brings you back to the present. You have to accept its existence and be patient. It’s exactly what we need in this day and age. A little silence, a daring silence, a homey silence. It’s absolutely vital.

Don’t ignore it. Don’t skip it. Don’t miss the rest of the song. Let the silence in Guaranteed be a mindful moment. It’s almost exactly the right length of time for a ‘breathing space’ practice. Welcome it – or practice welcoming it. It’s a reminder that you are always there, even when the world is distracting to the point of insanity. No matter where you go, there you are. Guaranteed.

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