Snowbirds visiting southern New Mexico are showing up on the desert trails where I run. I’ve noticed some of them are still plugged in. Sitting on a bench staring down into a phone. Walking with earbuds in or with music playing aloud. Sitting on a rock under a juniper tree with talk radio crushing the silence.
Their avoidance of the unbroken experience of nature makes me pay more attention to it. On a cloudless blue day, it was so quiet I could detect the soft sound of the breeze across my ears and the flutter of a quail taking flight. After a wonderfully long and heavy rain, the sandscape was dramatically repainted in soft, curving streaks of beige and brown where new rivulets had run to the lake. There was even a little mud. Not to mention deer tracks, a roadrunner, and a jackrabbit.
On a warm day, I even spied a few snake tracks. They like the sun as much the human visitors do.
Given the choice to disconnect from something, I’d choose the phone.
A week of thunder and lightning, but no rain.
A long to-do list.
A book finished but not finished. It’s with my beta readers and critique partners now. I have no idea how much revision they’ll recommend.
A world I wish I could change for the better.
If only the clouds didn’t have so many spaces between them. I think they could rain if they all got together. I have no power over that, though. I only have power over how I handle incompleteness. One thing crossed off the list every day. Small steps taken to make a better world, adding my voice and my efforts. Accepting there are no guaranteed results.
Inner quiet time. Without it, I can’t do the rest.
One day it was summer and the next day it was autumn. A deep silence heralded the change. Then, with a sudden wind, the new season flew in, bringing a day of dramatic skies—sunny patches, blue-gray clouds shedding thin sheets of rain, white clouds towering in wild wind-sculpted shapes. The only creatures I met in the desert were quail. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees, and everything that lives in a warm burrow was in it. Even after the weather began moving, my mind remained affected by the strange silence that preceded it, fascinated by sounds and the space between them. The tapping of rain. Nothing. The brushing of wind against rocks and trees. Nothing. A quail peep. Nothing.
I went to City of Rocks state park a week or so ago when friends visited from Virginia, and it was perfectly silent unless we spoke or walked. No cars. No other people. Nothing.
It’s hard for the human mind to sustain total silence. Openness to the arrival of pure experience can be overwhelming. My head is more at home filled with the chatter of its own products, from the turning point in a plot to my daily plans. But without stillness, none of the activity works as well.
At home, the silence embraces me. After nearly six months of running the air conditioner, I’ve been able to turn it off. On an evening walk, my neighbor and I fell into silence as the bats emerged from their new home, swirling into the sunset sky from behind a broken blue wall with a mural on it. They’ll only be with us for another week or two, and then they’ll migrate to Mexico. We humans, our heads full of words and the sense of time, are aware that when the bats leave, another season has changed. Something has ended. And yet it hasn’t. In the perfect, circular nature of real time, the cycle is eternal.
Read more of Amber Foxx’s essays on this blog and in the collection in Small Awakenings: Reflections on Mindful Living.
Even commonplace events can have depth and meaning, if we take time to notice. Power outages. Desert rain. Bats in flight. A stranger singing in a park.
In this collection of essays, Amber Foxx—a former college professor, now a mystery writer and yoga instructor—blends her insights as a teacher with her love of words to chronicle moments of beauty and deep attention.
Join her on a reflective journey though the small awakenings mindfulness brings into everyday life.
Barnes and Noble Amazon iTunes Bookstore Kobo
The dread of being stuck with an inconsiderate neighbor plagued me while I ran, as my mind rehearsed all the ways the problem could get worse and all the steps I might have to take to get it resolved. After all, there was only one good scenario: him moving out. But the bad ones seemed endless, and my mind seemed compelled to explore all of them, including having to move to get away from him. For me, his worst disruption of our previously serene little community in our building has been smoking (and stinking up my apartment!) although smokers are required to go off the property, not even in the courtyard, to light up. Worry clings to the mind in pursuit of a solution, even if there’s none possible at the time. Granted, this can be a preparation for coping, but I don’t go out in nature to worry, so I started counting the negative thoughts. Once I notice a pattern, it’s an effective way to interrupt it and make a particular worry into a practice rather than a torment. It came back eight times in four miles. With each return, I was no further along in solving the problem, but I was more aware of clinging to it and could let it go more quickly, to return to awareness of my movement and my surroundings. After all, if I can focus that intently on a negative, I apparently have the capacity to focus equally on something else if I chose to do so.
It was the day after a big rain, a cool eighty-two degrees, and that brought out the lizards. I saw eight greater earless lizards, evenly distributed along the trail, one about every half mile, and I paused to admire each of them. Their sleek gray heads and necks. Their glowing orange sides with diagonal black stripes. Their orange upper arms and radiant blue-green forearms. Their green hind legs and tail that seem lit from inside like a stained glass lamp. (The pictures don’t do justice to their true colors.) Most of them posed or did push-ups, as if showing off their jewel-like skins. Normally, I feel lucky to see just one, so this was an extraordinary bounty.
When I got home, my landlord let me know he was giving the smoker a thirty-day notice to vacate the premises. I wish the guy would leave sooner, but the point is, I hadn’t needed to keep thinking about it. I’m glad I was able to pop the worry bubble often enough to enjoy the weather and the lizards.
Permission given. You can sit perfectly still. You don’t have to do anything right now.
Ahh. A breath of relief.
This is what’s real. Being. Breathing. Seeing the patterns of light and colors, hearing the wind outside my windows, feeling my body release tension, letting the inner chatter fall away.
Yes, I have a to-do list. Appointments, commitments. Some are fun, some are just part of being a modern human in a somewhat inefficient society. But my first obligation is to my being. My stillness. My awareness.
The other day, I ran in this mind-state, attending to the sound of my steps and to the sights around me. Though I kept coming back to solving plot problems in my work in progress, I did spend more of my run noticing. As a jackrabbit ducked under a shrub, I saw the exact second that its big ears folded back to avoid the branches as it scampered. Life is full of those perfect moments, these ordinary wonders.
Without them, how can I write? Or enter all my busyness and commitments with an open heart?
Several readers suggested I should collect some of my blog posts into a short book of reflective essays, and I’ve finished selecting the ones to polish and organize into this project. It needs a title before I can have a cover designed, but I’ve always found it hard to name things. (As an undergraduate theater and dance student, I used to choreograph a lot of pieces called “Untitled.”)
The working title on the file is Meditations from the Middle of Nowhere, because Truth or Consequences, NM is very much in the middle of nowhere. However, I wrote many of those posts when I was only a part-time resident of T or C and spent most of each year teaching at a small college in Virginia. Not quite the middle of nowhere, though perhaps that doesn’t matter. One of my blog post titles, Small Awakenings, might be a good one for the book as well.
Maybe some of you have better ideas. Suggestions?