“Let’s try to keep silent for a minute and enjoy the complete absence of traffic noise!” I yelled to my friends. We were standing on a sandy hill in the middle of national park “Hoge Veluwe”. One of our friends, a biologist, enticed us to help him identify animal tracks in the sand. I don’t know anything about even-toed ungulates, but I know a bit about the joy of discovery.
“Great idea!”. I closed my eyes and smelled the very beginning of spring.
A few seconds passed.
A few more.
“Woah there I can’t shut up for more than ten seconds!” muttered a few. After a lot of laughs, everyone forgot about the pathetic attempt to create some silence and carried on with snapping pictures and posting them on-line.
Maybe a big sign upon entering the park that states “cellphones forbidden” would help. Or carrying decibel meters or something like that. But people seem to be preoccupied with whatever they are doing every single day, without one single break, not even on a short vacation. I sometimes feel the sparks of flow and wonder, but they never stay long enough for me to fully enjoy until I look back. I wonder if others feel it too. I doubt my friends were doing that - especially after discussing the ugly car we drove by half an hour ago.
When I drove home from work today, I took the liberty to dismount my bike and walk through a forest I pass every day. The difference between cycling through and walking through is huge, and then I wondered: what if instead of walking, which seems to be an improvement, I simply stop, and stare? The low winter sun and the clear sky combined with light green grassy hills soaked into my mind. I start to notice details. The contrast between the shades of leafless dead trees and the setting sun. The puffy seed pods of the weeds. Things I would not notice while walking, let alone biking. And yet by biking to and from work, I’m an exception: most people drive. The higher the velocity, the more my mind wanders. I’m convinced this doesn’t only happen to me - mindfulness proves that.
Warthog spotting in the woods…
It boggles my mind that a small adventurous feeling group of young (I’m obligated to write that) men can’t even shut up for more than 10 seconds to simply listen to nature instead of to man-made sounds. I can’t claim to be an expert on being in the moment, but at moments like this, in the very middle of nature, it might be easier for everyone than at home where every single object yells “distraction!”. Pets can help here too. Since our cat Muesli likes to stare out the window, I sometimes join him doing the same for a few minutes. It’s actually very difficult, to simply do that: stare. See. Look. Leaves. Wind. Nothing more. My brain automatically goes into overdrive mode claiming I have to be productive so it comes up with a list of stuff to think about. Letting those things go requires a bit of practice. And I mostly fail at that, but I enjoy the process. Just like I’m jealous of my dog, I’m also jealous of my cat.
The more I experience those moments, the more I’m starting to like it. There are a lot of reasons for us to try and slow down a bit more:
- It makes me be more content of “things” (figure of speech) I have
- It makes me want less useless “stuff” (literally)
- It makes me feel humble. A part of a bigger whole. Just like our dog and cat. We humans tend to think we rule this universe when in fact, we let our immediate needs rule us.
Creating the habit of taking your time doesn’t come easy. In the beginning, I didn’t even believe in why I should be doing that. But then I started to train my “understanding-mindfulness muscle” as I like to call it, unconsciously. That happened by reading books about philosophy, scrolling through analog versions of the Dutch “Flow” book and digital versions of things like The Minimalists, and foremost by writing down my thoughts in my journal. I’m adding the word “unconsciously” because I’m not a good practicer and at moments, I still don’t “get” it. But the more I read about the subject (or something that is vaguely related), the more I become susceptible to it. That’s not so surprising, but it’s a powerful tool to submerge yourself a bit deeper.
So let’s try to grow a rush-break we can pull on at any time to stop thought-spinning and start true-watching.