I first heard this advice from a camp counselor after a silly skit about texting, missing a sunset, and dropping a cell phone in the lake. “Be where your feet are” was the camp’s refrain. If you’ve traveled into the wilderness, be in the wilderness; pay attention to the natural world; open your being to the moment you’re in.
Being present is, of course, a perennial spiritual practice—for good reason—but there’s something about the out-of-doors that is particularly conducive. Now that the strawberries are ripening I spend ten minutes each morning harvesting in the back yard, brushing the wet leaves to find their red sheen. And while my mind certainly wanders, each berry calls me back. There’s one. Hold it gently between two fingers. Yank. Likewise while eating. A conventional strawberry floating in my bowl of cereal I might mindlessly enjoy, but a backyard, blood-red strawberry calls attention to itself; it fills my entire being with intense strawberriness. I am where my mouth is, wealthy beyond imagining.
Mindfulness in our ordinary lives is an effort, albeit worthwhile, but the natural world will make that effort for us if we allow it. Having come to Minnesota with a suburban New Yorker’s scorn for hunting, I’ve been awed by my students’ descriptions of spending hour after hour in a deer blind, whole body attuned to each rustle and scrape of the woods until they’ve dissolved entirely into autumn gold. Hunter turned mystic. The deer becomes irrelevant. We’ve all tasted this dissolution, at a sunset on a city lake or watching a family of ducks cross a busy road; it’s just most of us reach for a cell phone, hoping to record the moment in pixels. The mystic stands still. She records the moment with her cells.
The squirrel just is, and the purple aster, and the diaphanous web. They work their way on us if we let them. This summer let’s let them. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Want to give yourself a week to pay attention in a beautiful place? Join me this October 2-6 at the Madeline Island School of the Arts for the writing retreat, Alone Together: Living Revision.
Wishing you a good summer!