All the posts in this “Rivière-des-Prairies or Bust” series are self-contained, but by way of background…these are “field notes” of my efforts to walk in a mindful way westward from my Mile End, Montreal apartment until I reach Rivière-des-Prairies.
Today’s walk took me from the edges of Outremont, a picturesque upper-class neighbourhood, to the Town of Mount Royal, the well-off community where I spent most of my youth. Both abound with lovely parks and benches in which to enjoy them.
But I’m on a mission to prove to myself that anyplace is interesting if you stop to take notice, so I wasn’t going to force lovely on myself. The only thing I was going to force was the commitment I made today to sit for thirty minutes wherever I reached the hour-and-a-half mark. Which saw me planting myself on the steps of “LED Lighting” on Bates Road, one of a continuum of squat concrete office buildings. Could I really sit here for a full half hour – especially on a Sunday, with all the businesses closed – and observe anything other than my own boredom?
At times like this, I generally find it best to stop questioning the matter, and invite the world to come alive.
Suddenly, I am aware of a playground in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school, thanks to the yelping of children, and in the background, the springy sound of a large, bouncing ball. And I am reminded that ultra-religious people like to bounce balls, too. The blue sky is stealthily engulfed by a mass of grey clouds. A car rolls by and I can’t quite believe how much noise a single car makes. Another car starts, and I can’t get over how much noise another single car makes.
I close my eyes. The sound of a Hasidic boy yelling “Nein” roars through my ears. I notice that my jaw is relaxing, which means that a moment ago, it was clenched. I feel the sun on my arms. Has the grey sky given way to blue again? I feel pulsing on the soles of my feet from all the walking, in my arms from all the life. The sound of the breeze conjures images of tall grass blowing. Barely conscious that I’m doing so, I turn my palms towards the sun, and recite one of the Birkot HaShachar, a Jewish morning blessing, that doesn’t always stand up well to scrutiny:
Baruch atah adonay, eloheynu mel’ech ha’olam, sh’asah li kol tzarki
Blessed are you, The Generous, our God, life of all the worlds, who acts for all my needs.
I open my eyes, just as a Hasidic man wearing a tallis passes. We take turns not knowing whether to greet one another. Yes, the sky has gone mostly blue again. From nowhere, a colony of seagulls has arrived, circling in the sky, the ring expanding as they fan out. Then, after a while, they are gone except for two of them – grey winged specks against what remains of the grey sky, until they too, are gone.
To what end, all this noticing? I think of one of my Buddhist teachers saying, “You have no idea where you are on the path.”
The only thing about which I am certain is that I am pleased I risked some boredom.