You may have your eyes open, but are you really looking?

I usually take a long walk every morning, it’s become almost a form of meditation at this point. I’ll usually listen to a podcast or a playlist and the act of walking outside, in nature, allows me to think a bit less about all those stressors that can plague the mind. I listened to a great podcast not too long ago, it’s called On Being. The host was talking with a professor of wildlife, Dr. J Drew Lanham, who was a remarkable man, so interesting and thoughtful. But he said something that had a very profound impact on me. He talked about bird watching, and how much he enjoyed it, and he remembered being on the trails, observing birds through binoculars, and it occurred to him that when he was observing birds, looking at them, studying them, he wasn’t thinking, and at that moment he was experiencing joy. This is the essence of meditation, to slow your mind so that you can truly enjoy the present, the here, and now. So often we think about the past and spend time obsessing over regrets, or fret about the future, and worry about things that haven’t happened yet. Having small moments in your life that can help you appreciate the present can be very liberating and help quite a bit with stress and anxiety. While I was walking this morning I saw this robin having a drink in a puddle in the street. I often see birds on my walks, but they scatter before I could get a picture. But this morning, I stopped walking when I saw him, I tried to remain as still as possible, and I took out my phone to try and take a picture. At that moment I wasn’t thinking about money or taxes, or politics, or my health, I was just focused on getting a picture of that robin. It was a small moment of joy, a profound way to start my day.

When I owned a restaurant, stress was something that permeated my soul on a daily basis, and I learned to function despite it. I didn’t know how to deal with it in any meaningful way, I thought this is just how life is supposed to be I guess. The day I walked away from the restaurant is the day I started to exercise more, meditate, eat better, and be concerned about my mental, physical, and spiritual health. The more I walked, the more I learned how to meditate, the better I felt. One of the things that started to happen was I would notice little things that I didn’t notice before. I started to notice the different plants, flowers, and trees that were around me every day that I had never really bothered to notice before. I saw different birds, heard their different songs, saw squirrels, a couple of raccoons, rabbits, and even a fox one time, yes all in Chicago.

In the past I would never have noticed most of these things because I walked with my head down, hands in my pockets, obsessing over something I usually had no control over. Or I would have seen the birds, but I wouldn’t have really looked at them, noticed their color, their songs, their faraway gaze. I would have walked right by the cardinal I saw one day, high in a tree, staring at me out of curiosity. I would have walked right by the cherry trees blossoming in the park, the spring tulips in full bloom, or the purple hyacinth just starting to poke up from the soil. But now, for whatever reason, I notice all these things every day, and when I do, I understand the pure joy of not thinking for a bit.