"it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention..."
I've recently returned to New York from a whirlwind tour of teaching in Japan. After my fourth trip I've found a rhythm, a routine that keeps me running like a well oiled travel machine. The story usually goes something like this: long flight, jet lag, teach-teach-teach, busy-busy, eat some amazing food, teach-teach-teach-busy-busy, more good food and great company, teach-teach-teach, dizzying sense of pride and accomplishment, a quick cry, catch a breath, long flight,
jet lag, New York City, forgot how noisy,
teach-teach-teach, busy-busy, eat some amazing food, repeat.
This time was different. This time something magical happened along the way. A drive up the California coast, a pause.
Somewhere between Tokyo's Haneda airport and the noise of NYC, somewhere around the tip of Malibu, or the farmers market in Santa Barbara, or the misty hills of San Fran (I couldn't say exactly); I slowed way down. Not the kind of slowing down I usually find on vacation. A pace so different it seemed not to be coming from an outside idea of what should happen on vacation, but from somewhere deep within myself.
The coastline is beyond beautiful, and I had an empty schedule. The conditions were just right for slowing down. However, as many of us have experienced, even when blessed with ideal conditions on vacation the slowing cannot or will not occur.
Everybody always says "It's not about the destination, it's the journey that matters." This I understand in theory, but I've always had a rough time reconciling the notion of enjoying the journey with my sense of drive and determination. What I found over the course of ten days of travel without much of a schedule is that both the journey and the destination can be equally thrilling, and that ultimately they are one and the same. In each moment we have the opportunity to pay attention to what is right in front of us while simultaneously moving forward.
I took this photograph at the start of my vacation in Santa Monica. The view through a camera is captivating. A lens provides a portal to seeing the foreground, the background, and most importantly the relationship between the two.
The shore is a long distance away. The plants in the foreground are nowhere near as big as they seem in this image. But what if everything in the foreground of our experience could be this big, this meaningful? And what if we coud see what's right in front of us while still keeping an eye on the horizon?
Upon returning to New York I've begun a practice of maintaining my slow pace. The true test of lasting change is to return to the familiar with a new perspective on old habits. It's not easy in a city that moves so fast, but I focus on one or two small things I see on my walk to the subway, or I leave ten minutes early and choose a slower pace to my destination. I've found that I can have the trees, the forest, and whatever lies on the horizon. Perhaps the most miraculous discovery of all is that when I slow down, the city slows down with me!
I've included two poems that have inspired me since the conclusion of my recent training in Japan, and continue to keep me on the path of seeing the small quiet things in the big noisy city.
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
- Mary Oliver
Very little grows on jagged rock,
Be ground, be crumbled
So wildflowers will come up where you are.
You’ve been stoney for too many years
Try something different