I cannot stop time, or deadlines, or the pressures of my chosen profession. My only choice is to become more mindful.
S omeone scared me the other day. This well-meaning friend mentioned that November is not only next month, but it will arrive in two weeks. “What! When did that happen?” I shrieked, as if she had just confessed to commanding the Earth to accelerate its orbital velocity around the sun. With no celestial reason for my panic, I can only blame my personal time warp.
For much of 2014, I have treated the approach of any calendar milestone in the same way: Memorial Day (oh no!), July 4th (what?), Labor Day (too soon!), and so it will go to New Year’s Eve (2015, huh?). The older we get, another friend reminded me, the faster time flies. (Wait? Did a shadow just pass by—hooded guy, carrying a scythe?) Deadlines, the omnipresent professional hazards of being a writer, intensify the problem. Every day (week, month…) I play another round of “Beat the Clock.” My breathless racing from one thing to another causes mental myopia, focusing so narrowly on pressing tasks, that everything else in my field of vision blurs.
I cannot stop time, or deadlines, or the pressures of my chosen profession. My only choice is to become more mindful. The practice is perfect in this my favorite time of year. Here, on the southernmost part of the Great Lakes, the majority of trees have at least some color on them. Every day when I go out for a run, I scan my surroundings for bursts of orange, yellow, and red. Upon seeing a stunning display, I tell myself to really look:What a beautiful tree! Sometimes I say the words aloud so the image can elbow its way through the mental clutter and become captured in memory.
Since mid-summer, I have been running along a trail that cuts through the Forest Preserve, a mere four blocks from my house. Last Sunday, while on that path, I found myself immersed in a postcard view of what I remember of Vermont or the Adirondack Mountains (albeit with flat topography)—golden leaves, emerald grass, and charcoal tree trunks. The clouds parted, aiming a spotlight on one tangerine-hued maple.
Nothing stopped—neither time nor runner; we both kept a steady pace. But, in that moment, I willed myself out of my thoughts and into mindfulness in the presence of such autumnal beauty. Now, that snapshot of time, secured in memory, reminds me to stay alert in the midst of busyness that blurs the landscape—and life-scape—around me. I do not want look up one day and find the trees are suddenly bare, or that I’m five years older and can’t recall what I did during that half-decade other than treading work-filled waters.
Today, the ornamental cherry tree in the garden is spotted orange and tinged with red. The lilac leaves burnish yellow, and the maples along the parkway wear orange accents. Fallen leaves carpet the curb, and more spatter the lawn like splotches of yellow paint. Changes come subtly, but steadily—a dynamic panorama that unfolds, whether I choose to pay attention or not. Today, I choose to be mindful.