Armed with a 65-pound backpacked husky to my left, my unsecured iPod swinging around in one pocket and house keys in the other and my sunglasses loosely hanging off my head, I was off. I knew immediately that I’d made a huge mistake. I’d brought to much, been overly prepared for the journey ahead.
My iPod, a fun idea at first, flew out of my pocket every time Vin lunged forward to sniff at another patch of grass. I’d have to adjust my sunglasses, which jostled at the unsteady pace and grab at my keys, to make sure they hadn’t been lost in the tussle. I’d picked out a special soundtrack to bring along for the ride, but with the sound turned down too low, I felt I was doing Neutral Milk Hotel a disservice, and turned up high, I felt like I’d lost one of the senses I’d come to rely on so heavily during our walks — my sense of sound. I couldn’t hear the birds chirping — a highly coveted noise in March, which signals the beginning of spring and life — and perhaps more importantly, I couldn’t hear bikes or cars or voices of those around me. The music, meant to free my mind, was preventing Vin and I from walking to the same beat — something we’ve pretty much mastered with our runs.
I was frustrated that this scheme I’d cooked up to take Vin around Highland Park for an evening walk would not be the highlight-of-existence experience I’d hoped for. Vin kept stopping and starting, pulling forward and then off to the side, lunging toward the street and then off into a bush. “What was wrong with him?” I thought to myself. It was like we weren’t connecting, weren’t jiving. This was beginning to feel more like a failed adventure than like a calming end-of-the-week, time-to-clear-my-mind reward. I yanked the leash and pulled Vin near, hoping he’d fall in line with my steps, but I soon realized that I, too, was distracted and out of sync.
It wasn’t Vin that was the problem — it was us. And really, it was me. Maybe this wasn’t going to be the relaxing walk I’d saddled up for. I resolved to work toward fixing it, right then and there. I stood up straight, rolled my shoulders back, began taking deep breathes and scanning the horizon ahead of me, for upcoming obstacles to anticipate. There — an unruly dog up ahead, and there — a group of kids drawing on the sidewalk. Okay, now I was in it. Seeing, feeling, doing. No time to have my head in the clouds. I had to be focused on the task, and I really needed to calm my mind if I was going to get anything positive out of this experience.
Was it too much to see this as a spiritual journey, as a moment to invest in, and to work toward perfecting? Pre-Zen Center retreat experience, I’d have thought comparing a walk with my dog to embarking on a quest toward enlightenment would have sounded loaded and extreme, or too spacey and esoteric to ever want to admit to others, at the very least. Lucky for me, I’m slowly but surely moving into a post-Zen Center state of mind. What did I take away from my seven-hour retreat last weekend, many people ask? The answer — a better understanding of myself, and of how shed my fixation on not my words and thoughts to get more attuned to my feelings and actions. The Inner Me, which I’ve always allowed to be muddled with qualifying statements and comparisons and long, circular talks about “me”, becomes so clear and obvious, when you look at it straight on.
And as I quickly realized during my over-accessorized walk, it’s not preparing or planning that gets you to an enlightened state of mind. It’s simply being. It’s seeing every moment, even a short trek around the block with your pup, as a moment filled with infinite possibilities for gaining a better understanding of yourself. That’s what the Rochester Zen Center did for me. It didn’t change my mind — it opened me up to listening to it, more fully, deeply, and truly. And for that, I am truly grateful.
- The Tao of Who? Pooh? Naw, the Tao of You (bridefied.wordpress.com)