Much of my learning has the feel of remembering. Or remembering after forgetting might be more like it. A fresh recognition of something, an experience, a truth perhaps, whose acquaintance I’ve made before.
Just the other day I forgot and then remembered not quite in the nick of time to open the damper of our kitchen wood stove after lighting the fire. A smoldering mess for a minute there. Recently I enthusiastically completed Clare’s sentence during a conversation we were having, before being reminded with a knowing glance that she is capable of better accomplishing that without my help.
I know these things, but am prone it seems to forgetting them. Sometimes, when the kitchen begins to fill with smoke or I am paused with a tilt of Clare’s head, my remembering has a sheepish, even rueful quality. Often enough, it’s a simple matter of my not being sufficiently mindful, wholly present to what I’m doing or who I want to be. I know things tend to go better when I show up and pay attention. But, god help me, so often my mind is racing, has headed off to some altogether different place and time (the past, the future) leaving me to fend as best I can for myself in the here and now.
A couple of weeks ago I began a practice of taking an early morning walk along West Oxbow Road where we live. Just a mile or so, to awaken the senses, take in the changes that come with the unfolding of Spring – transformations that I often regret having missed because they happened while I wasn’t really paying attention. I bring to these walks all the the enthusiasm of one embarking upon a new habit, striding purposefully down the road and back again to the house, satisfied that I’d followed through with my plan.
Until, that is, Clare asked me the most innocent of questions. “What did you see?” she asked. “Snow’s melting!” I improvised.
In fact, I hadn’t noticed much of anything. My mind was off busying itself with other things while I was “doing my walk.” And I had forgotten altogether (in impressively short order I might add) my intention of taking in the mysterious unfolding going on all around me. Without at all knowing it I had morphed an intention to be present into a task to be efficiently accomplished, diminishing the experience by disconnecting it from the desire that gave rise to it.
The problem, of course, is that life simply doesn’t unfold around us in the abstract, but in marvelously specific ways, full of details to be noticed and perhaps shared. Details that demand showing up and paying attention. Something I want to be better at.
This morning I tried not to forget, pausing before heading out the door, reminding myself of the why behind the what I was about to do. And I saw and heard things. A fresh set of prints in the gravel of the deer that has been frequenting our stretch of the road since late winter. Two robins in conversation with one another. A jet black squirrel bounding away from our neighbor’s bird feeder. A place where the road, just below our neighbor’s sugar shack, offers a stereophonic audio postcard of the Spring thaw, with a small seasonal tributary tumbling down the embankment on one side and the more substantial waters of Wilder Brook on the other.
“What did you see today?” Clare asked when I returned.