Looking out the window, I can see them working their way across the barren flowerbeds. The bright orange of their breast showing me the hope of spring. Today is the first day I have seen robins in the yard. Moving from place to place with their hopping step, pausing to peck and scratch at the surface. They are so puffy with the feathers fluffed up against the cold wind, as if inflated just a little too much. It is a sign of springtime, and today is the first day I have seen them. It reminds me that I should take time to look, and see what is happening in my world, something I forget to do.
Lately I have been seeing a story flow past my Facebook, Medium, Flipboard, and general news feed about the ‘Man who knew too little’ and it reminds me of Henry David Thoreau and his book Walden and how he stepped into a simplified life in order to experience life more fully.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.— Henry David Thoreau
Moving to Prince Edward Island almost 10 years ago, we left behind a much busier life in the United States. Our move, in part, was to land in a place that had a pace that was slower, that felt the seasons, and moved more in synch with the world. It is funny how hard that is to actually accomplish. It was not long at all after I had arrived on the Island that I was working hard to recreate the busy feeling that I had known so deeply in Texas. To take on additional responsibility, and to occupy my hours with work and study. Thankfully, my life is blessed with a strong and insightful partner, Nancy, who is not afraid to point out the obvious when I so clearly miss it, and does so, despite my grumpiness at having the obvious point to so very clearly. There was truth to where she pointed, I was working diligently to recreate the life I was ‘comfortable’ with, a life I know so very well, even though it may well not serve me.
Stepping back, and slowing down, is hard. It is so very difficult to pull out of the ruts of the life that we live and find our way onto a different path. Momentum, physical inertia, mental inertia, the web of behavior that unconsciously guides our actions, conspire to keep us right where we are and our attempts to step outside of that range of actions feel scary, feel risky, feel dangerous. We came by these behaviors honestly, the response to life, to needs, to fit in, to feel some sense of control in what is inherently uncontrollable, and to willingly step away from them requires an act of great bravery, of great strength. For my part, it required me to pull up my roots, step away from my homeland, and plant myself into very different soil, then watch with great diligence as I tried to turn again and again back to the pathway and process of the old familiar ways. It has required me to work on my skills of observation, because Nancy cannot always be there in the moment to point out my recurrent behavior patterns. I sit, with nothing else to do, nowhere to be, just noticing my breath, and the active mind that so wants me to be doing anything else at all. I slow down for a time, simply to notice what I otherwise miss in the rush of the day. I slow down enough to notice the very breath I take, to study it closely, to become more intimate with the very act of being alive. By slowing down, I have a chance to catch myself in the act of ritual behavior, catch myself in the act of old familiar patterns of thought, to catch myself expecting actions and reactions, to catch myself projecting my beliefs onto the actions of others, to catch myself being pulled back into the old ruts and routines of behavior. And when it is slower, and I catch myself, I have a choice that would otherwise be unavailable, a choice that would fly by to quickly to see or act upon, a choice to change. When it is slower, I have the time to muster the bravery, the strength to make a change, to feel my way into something new and unfamiliar.
Looking out the windows, watching the robins work their way across the flower beds, I notice that the tension of rushing is not present, the feeling of obligation is missing, the pressure of this life of mine is not as strong. I feel my breath into my belly, I feel the cold that seeps through the window panes, and gratitude arises for all that is before me in this moment, and on my face a smile emerges as I recognize the little ways in which I am changing, moment to moment as I learn to slow down enough to live.
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