A bonus post this week: an essay from When In Doubt, Dance, the book of essays I’m working on. Enjoy!
Something deep inside me softens when I’m in nature. Breathing clean air, seeing landscapes – be they forest or mountain or canyon or seashore – gives me a sense of ease and space inside and out.
And the sounds! There is something particularly healing about the sounds of nature. Stillness dappled with bird song and bug chirp. Wind through reeds or pines. Water gurgling over rocks or lapping against shore or crashing into beach.
All that…and incessant volleys of gunfire.
Yes, it turns out that during a visit to a state park in rural Virginia, the nearby 4-H Camp was having their annual “Shooting Week”! As Frank and I hiked the trail around the lake early on a Saturday morning, boy howdy, those guys were shooting holes right through every other sound in a 10-mile radius. Every bird, chipmunk, and salamander that we had been hoping to see on this forest hike had taken flight or cover long before we even got our hiking boots on.
At first, I thought I could just pretend the booming was an approaching thunderstorm and have it blend into the scenery. But then the trail turned up near the camp right behind their targets. Each shot reverberated deep in my belly and snapped in my ears. Ignoring it or pretending it was something pleasant was like a friend’s toddler who climbs into your lap and has a diaper blowout. Ignoring or pretending: impossible and silly.
So we changed tactics and instead imagined that this was what it must have been like during the Civil War (not a great intellectual leap given that the park is in Appomattox, Virginia). But then I was off and thinking about how frightened those poor men must have been, heading into the sound of gunfire, and what a ridiculous waste that whole war was, and all wars, come to think of it, and what a dumb-assed way to solve a problem, and wouldn’t it be better if women ran the world, and well, you can see it, the rough and tumble ramble inside my head.
Next, I found myself composing a comment card to the park about how (a) this asinine week of shooting must be publicized on their web site so unsuspecting, nature-and-quiet-loving hikers and campers could avoid it like the godforsaken plague that it was, and (b) how they should just abolish the stupid thing since it truly went against the goals and mission of the Virginia State Park system, nay, of all park systems everywhere. There. Panties fully twisted.
After a time, there was a break in the shelling, and we breathed a sigh of relief. We sat on a mossy rock and ate an apple. We watched the surface of the lake reflect not only the just-turning colors of the leaves, but the touch of every insect. The bird sounds came back and we could hear the wind moving the trees. We even saw a squirrel (albeit an alarmed one). The softening and ease came back into my body and my eyes relaxed.
And then the shooting began again with freshness and fervor.
I had to laugh. It occurred to me that the whole experience was a lot like what goes on in my mind. In fact, what had been going on in my mind all morning. Given the time and the encouragement, my mind is spacious and relaxed, open and creative. But introduce some anger or fear or irritation and — bang-zoom — it’s tight, alarmed, hyper-vigilant and writing strident comment cards. The real practice, it turns out, to stay soft and relaxed even in the face of Shooting Week…and the accompanying thought-brambles.
Because just like the 4-H Shooting Week, thoughts arrive unbidden. I can be caught unawares by their intensity. And just like with Shooting Week, I have a choice. Instead of attaching to my thoughts — feeling either annoyed or angry or making up a story about them — I can just let them go. It’s just a thought, after all, so rather than getting all tangled up in it, I can just allow it to pass through.
Like a puff of gunpowder on the horizon.
~ Nature of Mind ~
• “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield on Buffalo Springfield
Dance it Deeper
• Dr. Daniel Siegel has a number of excellent books on the neuroscience of mindfulness, and one of the tools he developed is called the Wheel of Awareness. In it, he invites us to consciously choose where to direct attention, like changing a channel on a television. You can download and listen to his guided instructions at http://drdansiegel.com/resources/wheel_of_awareness/ .
Dance it Forward
• Take a few minutes to watch your thoughts. Sit alone and quietly and just let your mind wander – but while it does, witness where it goes rather than getting caught in the thoughts.