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.
August 20, 2014
The trouble started when I began to sniff an oasis.
Although I am enjoying the fact of this walk, still entertained by the idea of proceeding west to Rivière-des-Prairies and endeavouring to be present with whatever arises, today’s details aren’t doing much for me.
There have been moments, of course. For instance, the pleasure of witnessing a couple of teenage girls sitting on a high school bench, one of them – the one with the curly hair – laughing with such abandon that her feet leave the ground as she almost tumbles backwards. And I get to play peek-a-boo with a suspicious resident spying on me through her living room window, her head peering around the curtain. I wave and smile. Caught in the act, she tepidly waves back. Amidst a neighbourhood where the homes tend towards uniformity, and the prevailing noise is that of a lawn mower and the drone of traffic from Cote Vertu, I occasionally encounter declarations of individuality:
But mostly, the dominant features of today’s walk have been concrete and asphalt, accelerating the intensity of the hot and humid weather (this happened in August, remember), and all I really want to do is fulfill my commitment of walking for three hours and be on my way. Then I come across this:
The Bibliothèque du Boisé is what a library should be; quiet and airy, its patrons brown and black, Caucasian and Asian. A father is reading a newspaper, his daughters on either side of him, writing in copybooks. A teenage girl leans over Electronics for Dummies. There are teak ceilings and tall windows facing, surprisingly, woods!
I’ve earned this oasis, I tell myself.
Almost as soon as I start out through the woods, the path I’m on leads to a construction site, beside which teenage boys are kicking around a ball and bouncing Frisbees off the side of a building. I turn back to the woods, and construction noise follows. This is too urban. Or maybe it’s not urban enough. That’s it. That’s the problem with this place. It’s too in-between. And even worse, it’s too hot. Then, almost in spite of myself, I recall a passage from Bhante Gunaratana’s Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness:
“We are continually confronted by people and conditions we wish did not exist…Even something we cannot control, like the weather, makes us dissatisfied. At the Bhavana Society in West Virginia where I teach, people complain when it is hot and sticky. But they also complain when it is rainy and cool. When it is dry, they complain that their skin or their sinuses are affected. When it is cold, they complain because they fear they will slip on the ice. And when the weather is perfect, they complain that they do not have enough time to enjoy it!”
With Gunaratana’s admonition in mind, and aided and abetted by the camera in my hands, I remember to take time off from my displeasure to notice things:
To conclude the day’s sojourn, I sit down with the intention of mindfully eating a couple of mandarin oranges. I deposit a piece in my mouth, my tongue watering with anticipation. I take a bite and my face goes sour. The mandarins are mostly dry on the surface, and more watery than flavourful inside, and I want to toss them. Instead, I force myself to say a blessing:
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
And it becomes easier for me to remember that this food for which I have such disdain would be manna for most people on this planet.
I sit, and breathe, and try to live happily with hot and humid.