A few weeks ago my partner and I made a long drive from Cincinnati, OH to Greenwich, NY. We were going to a retreat center to present a weekend workshop named, “Personal Training for the Body & Soul”. We began our journey about 8:00am with our car loaded with suitcases, briefcases and enough food to make the long 12 hour ride – stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks! The day was pleasant but chilly – big heavy clouds passed by along the way, some gave us bursts of snow, others sprinkles of rain. The drive took us north towards Cleveland then east to Albany then north again to Greenwich.
Ohio’s farmland was spotted with areas of snow but it was mostly brown and muddy – the land was “in-waiting”. Every once in a while there was a fleeting sign of spring – a small bunch of wide flowers here and a forsythia with just a hint of yellow there. The landscape of Upstate New York began pretty much the same, with rolling hills of snow and mud – then came the acres and acres of vineyards as we passed through the Finger Lakes. Driving further east, the snowy fields became the norm and as the sun peeked from behind the passing clouds the landscape took on a glittering shimmer. How wonderful!
East of Buffalo, the New York Thruway cuts between the passing hills creating walls of stones and dirt along the side of the road. Some of these man-made cliffs were up to 30 or 40 feet high and most of them (especially along the south side of the east bound lanes) were dominated by thick frozen waterfalls of ice. As we passed, the ice reflected blue, green, yellow and gold. They were spectacular and grand. While our view was fleeting, because we were passing them at 70 miles per hour, they still demanded our attention.
As we drove further east and now past Syracuse, we were delighted and treated by the sight of thousands (and I really mean thousands) of Geese. Each skein of Geese was in the familiar wedge formation – some with 10 or 12 Geese, others with 20 or more. They were all flying in the same direction, perhaps looking for a place to light for the night. For miles, their formations filled the sky.
At some point along our drive, my partner took advantage of the situation and reclined his seat, closed his eyes and allowed the smooth rocking of the moving car to lull him to sleep. I turned off the radio and turned my attention to all that surrounded me – the highway, the traffic, the quiet farms, the geese, the changing light, the ice waterfalls and the sound of Rob’s sleeping breath. I found myself so interested in everything that was within sight and sound. But nothing was able to hold my attention for too long – remember we were moving through our scene at 70 miles per hour. But in those quick moments of my attention to what was passing by, I found that nothing else mattered. I had no time to dwell on any one thing for too long for it was very soon replaced by something new and interesting.
When Rob awoke from his hour or so nap, I talked with him about my experience while he slept. I told him that only after his waking did I realize that there were times in that hour when I could not remember what I had just seen or driven by. I told him of my experience of focusing on so many different sights and sounds that I felt I was present with everything. I explained that I had seen many details of the cars and farm houses only to forget about them almost as quickly as I saw them. I had felt totally “there” in that hour. It was a very interesting feeling – and this interesting is good.
Because of my experience on the drive, I found myself during the weekend retreat, stopping and saying to myself, “Pay Attention”, “Look into the eyes of the person who you are talking with,” “Are you really listening?” (Well at that moment, I guess I wasn’t because I was asking myself these questions, Ha!) Overall, I found that I was. I had made the effort – I wasn’t thinking of what I might say to contribute to the conversation, I wasn’t thinking about what time it was or about what was next on our schedule. No, I was there. I reflected back to a book by Dan Millman, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” when Socrates would ask Dan, “What time is it?” and the correct answer was “NOW” – “Where are you?” “Here”. How true!
By being in the “now” over the weekend, I found that the days were long and enjoyable – the evenings were sweet and relaxing. As Rob tells his meditation students, “you have all the time in the world.” This is what I have found to be true.
Many of us fill our days with so many things, so many gadgets, so many thoughts of ‘I like this’ or’ I don’t like that’ and our personal landscape zooms by at 70+ miles per hour. What happens is that we really don’t give anything very much attention and just as the landscape zooms by, so does our lives. No matter how fast the landscape might be moving, make sure you are concentrating on what you see in front of you. If the pace is too much, take your foot of the gas pedal and find the speed at which you are truly present—- in the NOW.
I invite you to slow down and really begin to pay attention. What color are the eyes of the person across the table from you? Do you see your surroundings? Are you hearing the sounds of the birds? Turn off your cell phone. Take a walk through a park. Make each moment a special occasion, for it is! This very moment is the only thing that is for sure.