I think, therefore I am. And yet to truly be, I have to control, even stifle that part of me that thinks and thinks and thinks. It’s important, particularly when life gets overwhelming, to take time to just be in the moment.
I’ve never been able to shut down through a program of meditation; the voices of boredom soon intrude on my tranquility. But when I’m drawing, that yammering voice of worry and criticism starts to disengage from my mind and then float away. Time slows, then stops. After twenty minutes or so, I come back to reality — refreshed, clear, my buttocks still asleep.
But I’ve found other ways to slow down.
I walk to work most days, covering the two and a half miles in thirty five minutes. I generally wind through Greenwich Village, then up through the meat packing district and along the river. I don’t encounter much traffic and the landscape is varied and interesting: 19th century brownstones and warehouses, taxi garages, car washes, art galleries, empty lots, some gentrified conversions. For a year or so, I wore my headphones en route and listened to music, books on tape or NPR podcasts. But recently I began leaving my iPod at home and slowed my pace down a bit. Now I spend my traveling time just listening to the morning. I find the time to think through ideas, to make connections, to be.
When I’m overly busy, my perspective gets so distorted. My loved ones become distractions. My pleasures become chores. I just want to get through things so I can work my way down the list.
Our turtle Mo-hammed is a low-maintenance creature. We feed him in the morning and clean out his tank once a week. Under the wrong circumstances, I ask myself (or worse, Patti and Jack) why do we have this creature in our kitchen in his heavy fetid tank of water, making more work for poor, burdened me. But when I come to my senses*, I take pleasure in feeding him dozens of little tablets of food one at a time or watching him walk around the kitchen counter, exploring. His striped skin is so beautiful. His shell like a horn of thumbprints, symmetrical and yet funky and organic. Pick him up when he wants to keep going on and he’ll emit a little hiss, like a cat or a radiator.
Walking with Joe through the park can be a perspective shift — if I let it. What’s it like to see the world from 12 inches, to note every previous dog’s markings, to yearn for every discarded chicken bone and bagel stub? I observe the politics of the dog run. A new dog enters and the pack’s pecking order needs to be re-calibrated. Every butt must be re-sniffed. Each dog must decide if he’ll submit or try to dominate the rest. The power struggles tend to be bloodless and quick. Dogs thrust their chests out or expose their genitals. Many encounter include a period of assessment, a brief standoff, during which each party stares and vibrates and finally chooses his place. Or, has it chosen for him. Studying and flowing with these basic interactions makes me feel at peace and in harmony. If only office politics were so clear and simple.
Drawing with my boy, cuddling with my wife, weeding my garden, folding laundry, staring out the window, sunbathing with my hound, flossing, drinking tea… the day is full of opportunities to stop and be. I never regret the time spent being thoughtless. I need to think of more ways to do it.
*“Come to my senses.” I just instinctively typed in that phrase and yet it seems so exactly right. I spend a lot of time away from my senses, in a revery or an imagined depiction of the what the world is really like. Being in the here and now means brushing away the fabricated veil, dealing only with what actually is (or at least what my senses really seem to be experiencing, Neo).