Beachwalking

I’m a big fan of walking in all of its many forms, but I think I may like beachwalking best of all.

Beachwalking has all of the positive attributes of walking generally — fresh air, exercise, feeling your body get into an almost mechanical rhythm while your mind has the freedom to roam wherever it wants to go. But beachwalking has a number of plus factors, too. It’s pleasantly hot, for one thing. There are soothing surf sounds and seagull cries in the background, rather than traffic noises. You’re barefoot, and you feel warm sand between your toes. And if you’re on the right kind of beach, you can walk for miles, uninterrupted by crossing streets or cars or traffic lights or other reminders of civilization. It’s an opportunity to work yourself into an almost trance-like, zen state.

Yesterday I walked for miles on a basically empty beach, plodding along until I came up to a stone jetty and had to turn around and trod back again. I thought about nothing but sand and sea and the distant goal. It was a wonderful journey.

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App-rehension

Earlier this week I was having lunch with a younger colleague in a busy airport, talking about how tough it is to juggle the demands of young children, a work schedule that involves lots of travel, and other elements of modern professional life in America.  As she noshed on her salad, she mentioned that at times she took out her phone and used “Calm” and “Buddhify” to help her reduce stress.

IMG_1092Eh?  There are smartphone apps geared toward meditation?

Yes, she explained.  They are part of the “mindfulness” segment of smartphone apps, and then she described how you can use the apps to look at calming scenes, hear soothing sounds, and select mediation routines that are specifically targeted to helping you deal with a particular scenario, like getting to sleep or dealing with stress at work.  She then thumbed through her phone app index pages in a way that made it clear that she had a lot of apps.  My younger cousins have a lot more apps than I do, she said — dozens and dozens of index pages of them.

I thought about my smartphone, with my skimpy two pages of apps, most of which came with the phone, and I felt apprehension and, frankly, inadequacy.  And as my colleague showed me some of the other apps she has on her phone — apps like TuneIn, which allows you to listen to sports broadcasts of your favorite teams wherever you are, or Happier, which helps you think most positively (UJ must already have that one), or Pandora or Spotify, which allow you to listen to lots of good music of your choosing — I realized, again, that there’s a huge world of potentially useful or enjoyable apps out there and I am completely oblivious to them.  My poor, underutilized iPhone is like what they used to say about the human brain — it’s using only about 10 percent of its potential.

But here’s the problem for me.  How do you find the good apps?  Is it primarily word of mouth?  Do people regularly have conversations about apps, and discuss which ones, in their experience, are worth it or not?  Or do people do on-line searches for app ratings and comments?  Or do they go to the app store and just look around and try things out?

I’m feeling a bit lost here.  But if I can find an app that transforms modern business travel into more of a zen-like experience, for example, I’m willing to work to find it.

Creatures Of Habit

In an effort to get a bit more exercise into my day, I’ve been getting up earlier and walking for the last six months or so.  I leave the house a few minutes before 6 a.m., walk up Third Street, take a lap around the perimeter of Schiller Park, and head back home in time to get ready for the work day.

habit20I’ve noticed that, on my little pre-dawn jaunt, I see the same people, at about the same time, in about the same place.  The quick-walking bearded guy wearing a Kansas City Royals cap, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets, heading down Third to the Starbucks.  The guy smoking his morning cigarette next to the church.  The two women walking in the street wearing colorful, coordinated workout outfits.  The seemingly inexhaustible guy running around the park with his two border collies that always move to the other side of the sidewalk as I approach.  The two joggers carrying on an animated conversation.

I freely concede that I’m a creature of habit.  When it comes to things like exercise, I like getting into a routine and then following it.  I could mix things up and, say, walk down Mohawk rather than Third, or really get radical and walk in the opposite direction — but I would never do that.  I like taking the turn at the Starbucks, seeing whether there’s been any progress on the church repairs, and checking out the people pounding away on the treadmills at Snap Fitness.  And, from my experience seeing the same people in about the same place at about the same time, I’m not alone in my creature of habit status.

If you google “creatures of habit,” you’ll find a number of articles about how people can break their habits, and the positives that can flow from trying something new.  I’m sure that’s true, but I’m here to say that habits can have their value, too.  There’s a certain comfort in the sameness, a zen-like tranquillity in the known and the familiar, and a sense that a new day must be starting because I’m rounding the third corner on my way around the park and that guy on the bike is wheeling by, just like clockwork.

Routines can have their value.

With The Pre-Dawn Crickets

Some nights, I just don’t get a good night’s sleep.  I’ll doze off for small, fitful chunks of time, have an unsettled dream, wake up with the wisps of the dream already fading, a racing heartbeat, and a dose of heartburn, look at the clock with a groan, and then try again.  Usually in the 4 a.m. time frame I jolt awake, give up on trying any more, and decide I might as well start the day.

IMG_7166When that happens, as it unfortunately did this morning, I like to open the windows, let the cool morning air wash in, look out the windows at the street light and empty sidewalks, and listen to the crickets against the blanketing backdrop of silence.  4 a.m. may be an out-of-joint time for us humans, but it seems to be prime time for the crickets.

It’s odd, but we seem to have far more cricket sound in our new semi-urban house in German Village, with its tiny gardens and yards separating buildings that are only a few feet apart, than we ever had in our suburban home in the rolling, white-fenced countryside of New Albany.  Perhaps the cricket noise is just more noticeable in the pre-dawn quiet in this place and setting, where we expect to hear people walking past and the sounds of cars rattling down the brick-paved streets.

I’d always prefer a sound sleep, of course, but when it just doesn’t happen it makes no sense to fight the reality, tossing and turning and becoming snarled in twisted sheets and blankets.  Far better to get up, enjoy the skin-tingling gusts of cool air that waft through the opened windows, appreciate the darkness and solitude, and try to develop a zen-like attitude and reflect on the world during a time of great calm.  The cricket symphony in the background helps.

Saturday Night/Sunday Morning Fire Pit

  

I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of our backyard fire pit.  I like the zen of it, and the minute adjustments that make up tending a fire.  As I listen to my Empty Nest playlist and watch the fire consume logs and make them vanish into smoke and embers, I am struck by the beauty and violence and mystery of it.

I feel like I could sit out here and watch it for hours.

The Pathes To Bathsheba

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The east side of Barbados is mountainous, and the Sea U Guesthouse where we are staying is on the edge of a rocky hillside. There is no direct, easy route down to the water. Instead, two options are presented.

First, you can head south and downhill, the loop back north and follow a worn trail that runs along the coastline. This route will take you past boats under repair, steps that lead to nowhere, and abandoned concrete foundations, and the grasses growing along the path will tickle your ankles as they sway in the ever-present sea breeze.

Or you can head north and uphill to find the main road, and then follow that route as it switchbacks down the hillside to the ocean. This route requires the walker to keep an eye out for traffic — which proceeds on the wrong side of the road, from the American standpoint — but also offers a stunning view of the sweeping arc of Bathsheba beach and its pounding waves, as well as a bird’s eye view of the footpath far below.

Two distinct paths to one destination. Very zen-like, and very Caribbean!

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Life’s Little Irritants

I think that a big part of being happy is learning to overlook life’s little irritants and focus on the good things.  Sometimes, though, that is easier said than done.

Last night, when I left work, the thunderous sounds of a motorcycle echoed through the multi-level concrete garage where I park.  Some Hell’s Angels wannabee was revving his bike as he slowly rode from deck to deck, and when he left he gave those of us walking to our cars a final ragged blast of deafening engine noise and exhaust fumes.  I guess we just needed to lose a few degrees of hearing acuteness to help the Easy Rider compensate for his apparent feelings of manly inadequacy.

On this morning’s walk I marveled at how many drivers switch on their bright lights just as they are passing by, leaving me to stumble into the approaching glare and step into an otherwise avoidable puddle.  It’s as if the day would not be complete without seizing the opportunity to blind the bespectacled guy trying to steer his dogs down the path.  And while I suppose the drivers might claim to be doing it for safety, it’s not as if we live on the edge of a cliff or on a twisting highway full of switchbacks.  It’s a well-traveled road through flat countryside, for crying out loud!

I know that, to achieve a zen-like state of contentment, I need to ignore such annoyances and the irksome behavior of thoughtless fellow inhabitants of the planet, but I’m a long way away from attaining such serenity.  Complaining about nuisances is the best I can manage right now — but it does make me feel better.