When I have something I want to think through, I take a walk. If it’s a really big something, I get behind the wheel, take a nice, long drive and cogitate.
Yesterday I took a drive to help me work out a piece I wanted to write on mindfulness.
A few weeks ago, you see, I heard Krista Tippett interview Dr. Ellen Langer – the first woman to be tenured in psychology at Harvard – about the difference being mindful can make in our lives and I was intrigued. Research shows that people who are mindful tend to be happier, healthier and more successful.
What’s not to like?
You know, I’ve heard about mindfulness for years and, to be honest, it seemed like a lot of work. I mean, to achieve mindfulness, you have to sit. With your legs crossed. And repeat vowel sounds. And meditate.
But Langer’s research shows that mindfulness is much easier to reach than that. In fact, it can be achieved by just “actively noticing things.”
That, I can do.
So, on my drive yesterday, I set out to do it – to actively notice something. And I did.
I noticed that my neighbors have new textured shingles on their roof, and that a tree I suspected of being dead had been removed on the corner.
I noticed the red of the neon sign telling me that the nearby Lebanese restaurant was open for the day.
I noticed a riot of color in the new flowers at the local garden center.
And then, I noticed the elderly man trip on the sidewalk and fall into the street right in front of my car.
I noticed what it sounded like when I slammed on the brakes.
I noticed my heart rate zooming.
I noticed the care and concern of the woman walking with him, as she leaned over to try to help him up.
I noticed how my seat belt button felt as I released it, and how my feet felt as they hit the pavement.
I noticed that the man had a white beard, and white hair, and for a moment was reminded of Santa Claus.
I noticed that he fell again trying to get up.
I noticed how strong his grip was as he grabbed my elbow and got back to his feet.
I noticed the other cars that had stopped, and the twenty other people who were out of their cars rushing to help.
I noticed the worry on the face of the woman in the car behind me who had stopped diagonally, to protect me as I got out of my car.
I noticed the elderly man’s sense of humor when he said, “Well, see, I was just practicing falling down and now I guess I’ve got it all figured out!”
I noticed how good it felt to laugh a little.
I noticed the feel of the shopping bags I picked up from where they had been dropped by the couple, and what it was like to ask if I could call an ambulance or give them a ride somewhere. And the gratitude of the wife when she said, “No, we live right here. We’ll be fine” and then, “Thank you for everything.”
I noticed what it was like to see traffic stopped in both directions, people out of their cars, willing to lend a hand.
As I drove away, I noticed so many things. The sudden immediacy I’d just experienced was overwhelming. I still felt on high alert and then tears came to my eyes and I found it hard to breathe.
I was glad I had been able to help, but I wondered what might have happened had I been mindlessly driving. What if I hadn’t been focusing on actively noticing? If I hadn’t been present enough to see the elderly man falling right in the path of my oncoming car?
I choked back the tears and took a few deep breaths. And went back to active noticing.
Because this stuff totally works.