The other morning I was out for a walk with the dogs, it was just barely not dark. Two or three coyotes were barking and howling very close by, maybe right above us. Mack and I instantly slowed down to keep pace with the slower, older and smaller dog. Emma barely noticed them, just kept moving her snout around the bushes and bits of grass while she slowly sniffed and sauntered along the trail.
Mindfulness, meditation, being present… all of these are terms that are hovering around the edges of blogs, social media, and general conversation these days. I had a meditation app on my phone that told me how many hundreds of thousands of other people were currently using the app. Contrary to giving me a sense of chilled-out community, it made me think about the collective dollars being spent on meditation, on silence. Which kind of stressed me out.
I have spent most of my adult life identifying and stripping away sources of anxiety. Identifying and doing the things that make me happier. Seeking out solitude and vastness and silence. The meditation app was fun, had cute animations, and served as a reminder to re-set my priorities, but in the end we all have to find our own way of quieting the noise and slowing down.
Given the choice, I will always go for speed and action over stillness and contemplation. In fact, I am pretty bad at being slow. But we all know about injury and recovery, about not always getting what we want, about good things coming to those who wait, and other unavoidable truths about the process of living a life. To avoid the roller coaster of frustration and impatience, I am sometimes able to appreciate slowness and even embrace its challenges and rewards.
If I could spend all of my time outside wandering the rivers and mountains, I would. I’d like to live in a shack on the edge of the wilderness where I can play ukulele and make tiny drawings when I’m not outside exploring, fishing, running and biking. Ideally the shack will have a big porch with a view of vastness, and not too many mosquitos. No leashes, no smog, no signs telling me where to go or how, no place to be other than where I am. I will go fast in the morning to go slow in the afternoon and be still in the evenings. For now, I get outside early, in the dark, because that is when there are the fewest people, when the air is the easiest to breathe, and when I can find the greatest sense of peace in the city. I leave town on the weekends to explore, to find new landscapes and views I’ve never seen.
Emma’s strategy is to do her thing. She is not interested in being rushed, in chasing the stick you want her to chase, in running, mountain biking or any other activity that makes her move past a great-smelling bush or deer carcass faster than she wants to. She will go, but she has her priorities and she will not be rushed. At some point, years ago, we lost interest in yelling and whistling for her, cajoling and nudging her along, because that dog is stubborn in her vision and purpose. And, in the end, we always wait for Emma.
Meanwhile, I listen for where the coyotes are and end up hearing the birds and rustling of leaves in the wind, the quiet roar of traffic in the city, the crunch of my shoes on the trail. I notice the sun lighting the edges of clouds and the profiles of the hills and trees appearing in the twilight. I see Mack’s white-tipped tail ahead of me on the trail as he moves easily through the dark.