I’m driving across country and I’m in Bismarck.
Sounds like a dream to me. One of those off-kilter dreams that’s neither good, nor bad. Just off-center.
We’re moving (again)— this time from Seattle to New York. While I’ll miss Seattle and the people I knew there, I am very excited to go back to the one place in the world that most feels like home. The Hudson. The trees. The buildings. The bricks. The architecture. The bridges. The vegetation. The sounds. The look of the street signs. The sarcasm and the bluntness. The people who surprise you.
It’s been a whirlwind since my wife and I made the decision to move— we had three weeks to pull it off. One of the things that we ended up deciding to do was to have me drive cross-country with our dog, Mara.
When I first started to consider the idea seriously, I half-seriously said that it could be a vision quest for me. And it has been. I won’t go into detail about it, since part of my vision quest involves keeping it to myself.
But I will share one aspect of my experience. That is the challenge of paying attention. To the moment, to the current present of my surroundings.
It’s hard enough to keep my mind from wandering toward other topics– work, relationships, movies and television shows I have seen, books I have read, political acts I would like to undertake, where I’m staying for the night, and other thoughts that come into my mind.
Then there’s the added difficulty to stay present to one’s surroundings with cell phones, smart phones, texting, and GPS. It’s easy to get so pulled into using these devices that what’s going on around you only dimly registers somewhere in the recesses of your consciousness.
Being present to my surroundings on this trip is fundamental to the vision quest aspect of it. And yet, I have found that far more challenging than expected— far tougher than on previous trips for me when I was younger. But I need to pay attention, to see, to listen— it provides a grounding that allows me to get deeper into my self. And in kind, that access to my deeper self is grounding to me.
And I have rediscovered how to do that.
So, try this sometime.
Decide on a time to spend without your 21st Century gadgets (except maybe your ipod— in case music helps you in what follows below).
Get present to what’s going on around you. Look around, listen, use all of your senses.
Now go even deeper. Get quiet internally. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Sense? Make these things register for you— whether it’s just sensing them with undivided attention, keeping an internal running narrative, or journaling about them. You might be surprised by the creative, business, and work ideas that just come up out of you, automatically, out of nowhere.
Mindfulness meditation helps you get present to the moment, too— whether it’s Zen, yoga, Catholic centering prayer, or any other tradition. Until a few years ago, I used to think that it was for other people. But the great thing about a meditation practice is that you can create your own— whether it’s orthodox or unorthodox. In the next few days, I’ll be providing some links to some (hopefully) useful mindfulness resources to get you started.