While walking through the garden early this morning deadheading flowers and pulling weeds my left hand brushed up against the leaves of the potted Jasmine and the water resting on the leaves from the overnight rain ran down the back of my hand. I didn’t see the water, nor did I see the leaves of the Jasmine, but I knew exactly what was happening at that moment. The senses, when open to the world, inform us in ways both delightful or discomforting. And both are valuable depending on that moment. The senses detect a change of state and tell our brains when we ought to pay attention to something.
Sometimes in summer I’ll walk Bodhi barefoot down the street at night. This is of course fraught with peril as stones, acorns, glass or any number of other things may be lying in wait to encroach upon my naked feet. But the payoff is feeling the warmth radiating off the pavement on a cooling summer night, and the variations as you walk from what was, hours before, a shaded part of the street to a part that had been in full sun. Combined with the celestial show above and the ever-changing sounds of a wooded nighttime New Hampshire Cul-de-sac in late July it becomes…. well, sensational.
I’ve written before about the feeling of the water current flowing across your skin as you swim. Or the rustling of leaves or pine needles on a breezy evening. The sound of ice crackling on branches as the first light of day stirs the air. The smell of tropical rain or winter snow well before you see anything falling. The hot summer sun warming your skin as you air dry after a swim. The scent of flowers hidden from view but announcing their presence. The quiet stillness of a hike in the White Mountains alone with your thoughts. The enticing smell of a wood fire at night, the mouth watering aromas coming when something is cooking on the grill, or the irritating smell of a neighbors cigarette smoke invading my space when I’m in my backyard (damned prevailing wind).
The senses come alive when you’re outside. So much more to take in of course, but its also being removed from the things that pull your attention away. But for many walks outside in the past I’d have my earbuds plugged in and music blasting, and I’d be deep in my thoughts or in the lyrics as I power walked my way to whatever level of fitness I achieved. And there’s a place for that too. But so much of our lives today is electronic noise; political banter, pharmaceutical advertisements, canned sitcom laughter and electronic notification pings. I’ve found that turning off the noise releases me from that burden, and I’ve taken to removing myself from as much of that as possible.
America’s media diet is changing. Mobility is everything now. Traditional sources of information continue to evolve with winners and losers announced seemingly daily. This week the New York Daily News laid off roughly half their staff in a cost cutting move by the firm that owns them. Facebook lost $120 Billion in Market Value when they announced slowing growth. Grabbing our attention is more critical for the survival of media than ever, and as a result the noise gets more shrill all the time. Click bait “articles” and political extremism seem to get more in your face every day. I’ve gotten to a point where I choose to turn it off and think, listen to music or a long-form podcast or read a book.
I’m at an age where I’m living notable state changes. The kids are grown up and doing their thing, building their lives and becoming more and more independent. Friends are living through similar changes and time with them wanes as they focus on new businesses or checking off bucket list items. Remarkable people in my life are passing away, living through divorce or separation, fighting cancer or depression or unemployment or the effects of aging. And remarkable people are entering my life as our individual ripples across this surface of life intersect and change our trajectories. Like a stone dropped into a still pond carries ripples across the surface long after they’ve disappeared from sight I still feel the ripple of people I haven’t seen in years influence my life and by extension those of people I interact with.
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
– David Bowie
Social media is a way to stay in touch, but its not the same as spending a day on the side of a soccer field together, or gathered around a picnic table or a fire late into the night. Such is change, and its not my first rodeo. Similar changes happened when we went off to and then graduated from college. Similar changes happened when we moved and raised children and built our lives around their activities. The world is constant change, and I’ve come to accept that. I take the additional quiet time as an opportunity to open up the other senses and feel what the world has been saying all along. One thing I know for sure is it won’t be quiet for very long.