Even in the relative peace and quiet of our backyard, my mind buzzes. While a titmouse is making its monotonous, but very determined, call to attract a mate, while the wind whooshes through tree branches, and a red-shouldered hawk cries out a block or so to the west, my mind is rattling on about things I should be doing and running a well-worn Moody Blues tune in the background.
Sometimes, if I work at it, I can quiet it down, but it takes an effort and I can only do it for a couple minutes at a time. In those brief periods, however, the world around me seems to snap into a sharper focus—sounds are clearer, colors stand out that I hadn’t noticed before, I can smell the grass and soil. Then here it comes again, “Lovely to see you again my friend. Walk along with me to the next bend…”, “I really need to get that fence fixed….”, “I have to cut mats for five prints before Thursday…..”. Off to the races.
I bet a few years in a Zen Buddhist monastery would help with this. Nadia might object, though.
It’s a distracting world and our minds need very little excuse for reveling in that. If things on the outside get too tame, we’re pretty good at cooking up constant distractions on the inside and not so good at shutting them off. We try mindfulness and meditation exercises to focus our attention on what’s there and get our internal and eternal chatter under control, but it’s major effort, not be taken lightly.
I suppose that’s why I’ve never understood why so many folks seem to try to increase the distractions that wall us off from what’s around us.
Standing on a trail a few days ago, I was absorbed in trying to plot the movements of a woodpecker of some kind, following the sounds of its hammering as it moved rapidly around what may have been its territory. I couldn’t see it at all, and when I looked in one location where the sound was coming from, it was already quite a ways off in another direction. It was moving so fast and frequently that I figured the hammering probably wasn’t a search for food, but maybe was for establishing boundaries.
Glancing down the path, I saw a man climbing uphill toward me, followed by his dog. He was staring fixedly at the trail, so as he got closer I gave a little cough to let him know I was there. Didn’t want to startle him. No reaction. A little closer, then I called out “Good morning!”.
Finally, I stepped just off the path, and when he came opposite me, no more than three feet away, he suddenly jumped, startled, and said a nervous “hello!”. That’s when I saw the earbuds.
Now, the vegetation hadn’t really leafed out yet, and I was wearing a fairly bright, blue shirt in the brown woods and standing in the open. If he couldn’t detect me, I wonder if he saw anything at all during his walk in the spring forest? Why even be there? Exercising while that distracted would be much safer and easier on a treadmill, seems to me.
When I described this little incident to Nadia later, she said “He was there for the dog.” Ah, yes. That’s probably right. I do know that the dog wasn’t startled when he came up alongside me and probably had me spotted way back on the path. That pooch was in the moment.
On another occasion, I was walking across the University of Missouri campus when a red-tailed hawk sailed overhead about fifteen feet off the ground, calm and serene. I stopped to watch, but noticed that, not only were no other people watching, but apparently nobody even noticed the hawk was there. Lots of earbuds all around and lots of fixed stares directed at cellphones. That hawk had the place all to itself, except for me.
I fight a more or less constant battle to lessen my mental noise and let the world in, but many people seem to dislike, or maybe even fear, the kind of silence that can result from that. I don’t know if it’s the outside that makes them uncomfortable, or something internal that needs to be kept at bay, but there must be something. None of my business, I guess.
I never did see that woodpecker or figure out what it was doing, but it kept doing it after man and dog had passed. Flickers called farther out among the trees. The breeze sighed through the almost bare branches, and down by the creek, water murmured over stones. Harbinger of Spring and Spring Beauty blossoms peeked up from the leaf litter. For a few precious minutes, the Moody Blues shut up and the world tiptoed in….