I love walking almost as much as my dog loves walking. So, after a long day of impatience and non-productivity I leashed up my dog who’d been very patient with me that day. We both needed a walk.
But as we headed out down the sidewalk in our historic, perfect-for-walking neighborhood I became aware of how scattered and misdirected my mind was. As I walked I was reworking what felt like every failed conversation of the day. Instead of unwinding I seemed to be winding. I observed myself setting up my mental soldiers on various battlefields- some as old as me, some just established today.
On the occasions when I would surface, my mind focused in on the people who rolled through stop signs, sped a little too fast down my residential street, gazed into their phones their hands (believe it or not) resting against their steering wheel as the streetscape, myself and my dog included, whizzed past them. My mind raced at once out ahead of me and behind me, everywhere but right here – just a man with his dog. Back in the present, in the here and now, my dog exhibited his own undisciplined behavior. Sniffing this, licking that, circling around a scent until another one pulled him this way and that. He jerked his chain, my hand and me this way and that.
This was my relaxing walk, being pulled this way and that, emotionally pulled around by my undisciplined mind and my undisciplined dog. And this is exactly the way I had gone through my day which was why I believed I had needed (deserved) the walk in the first place. The walk itself might have just been another distraction promising to give my life a moment of escape from simply existing fully in the moment. Dedicating my full attention to my work.
But it took me a while later until I could clearly see this. In the moment I was simply a man everywhere but in the moment, only reluctantly visiting that place when my dog yanked me this way and that – the way people will yank you this way and that in the course of a day or a life when you are not clearly focused on where you are and where you are going. Our chains yank and are yanked into the yet non-existent future and back in the unchangeable past.
It wasn’t working. The one thing I was painfully aware of was that I was becoming more wound up on this walk, not less. And I knew that this was no different than any of my other walks that I liked to think had stress relief benefits. I imagined myself as seen from a car whizzing by as a guy who looked scattered with a mind too busy for a walk.
I needed something to focus my mind on, a meditation that would help me grasp the moment, on this walk but also in my life.
I searched for a way to visualize being centered at this point in my life. What would it look like? How does one define the space immediately around them so that one can center themself? I looked around me and the answer appeared at my feet.
The sidewalk squares. Of course!
Sidewalk squares became an obvious mantra as I walked through the city that afternoon. Each seeming as boring and uniform as an unobserved breath, that is until I began to observe either closely. If at this moment you aren’t standing in the center of a sidewalk square I encourage you to focus on your next breath and notice that it is much more complex you were about to give it credit for being.
Then you begin to notice the variance of each breath. As I walked on I started to see the individuality of each sidewalk square. Shape. Texture. Imperfection. Absence, and what replaces their absence. How does it feel beneath my shoes. How does it feel as it fills my chest?
A car door slams, the chirp of a remote lock. Across the street, it’s an old acquaintance and his wife. Reflexively I call out “Hi.” But they didn’t hear so I start to call out again, my pace quickened. Then the dog tugs a little, calling me back. How easy it is for attention to stray.
The sidewalk. This time, on this street the squares are larger, smoother. Bounded on one side by brick. Here’s a cracked one.
Today on my walk I stumbled upon this a meditation and I’m glad I found this dog whistle for my mind. Like those undisciplined dog owners who the Dog Whisperer teaches to regain the control through calmness. It’s pleasing.
I check myself. Is my ego so pleased with my discovery of this little exercise that I’ve disappeared again? I should write this, I think to myself. Gotcha! I laugh out loud and take notice of the square that surrounds my feet.
Puddles. Grimy pile of plowed snow.
My dog seems to appreciate some improvement in his master this evening.
I wonder where else and how else this can be applied.