If you’ve ever been to Central Park, you’ve probably walked through its renowned Mall. Leading from the Literary Walk towards the Bethesda Terrace – or the other way around, depending on which way you tend to walk – the Mall feels to me like New York City’s Muir Woods, its wide path lined by giant trees, their branches softly lilting over the tourists and city residents strolling beneath.
Biking through Brooklyn the other morning, I was reminded of this magical walk in its fall glory. The vibrant yellow, orange, and red hues in the tree canopy above, along with the leaves that continually fell onto my bike and me as we passed through the archway of trees, served as such tangible reminders of the reality of fall’s presence. Despite the ebb and flow of the temperature outside, the trees continued on to winter, preparing themselves to be bare, and maybe full of snow.
I find fall to be the season that most reflects the art of letting go. As the temperatures fall lower and lower and the wind whips up, the trees literally let go of their leaves and some animals begin to take leave of their usual homes to prepare for hibernation. We humans, in turn, ditch the outfits that bare our legs, recognize the added weight of our bags as we carry more layers, and crave warm, moist foods that seem to hug our very souls. Something about that bike ride under the trees – which I somehow hadn’t discovered in being hit over the head by acorn after acorn on other tree-lined streets – reminded me how much we have to learn from nature’s practices.
Lately, I have found myself seeking. Forever seeking what will be, what could be, forgetting about much of what lies right in front of me and what has gotten me to where I am. A few lines of Shuntaro Tanikawa’s poem, In Spring, which was printed inside the program for Bill T. Jones and Anne Bogart’s latest piece, A Rite, at BAM, speaks to this very state I have been swimming in:
I wish tomorrow and the day after tomorrow would come all at once
I feel so impatient
I want to walk beyond the horizon
A friend of mine speaks to time as a premium. How often do we jam pack our days with work and exercise and food, only to count down the amount of time that is left to fit in even more? (I would be the very first to be called out for this!) Time becomes unbelievably precious, especially when we feel as if we have less of it within the spectrum of a day or week or year or number of years. And yet, as much as we try to manage our time, is Time the spectrum of life that we have the least control over? That idea could certainly be argued against, as relationships, for example, are difficult to unequivocally control, but regardless, what is it that draws us to this attempt to control time and all that fills it (our careers, our relationships, our adventures, our struggles)?
My former perfectionist ways or my attachment to my planner and to-do list in my phone’s Notes could be the factors that perpetuate my look to the future, but I sense that the uncertainty of an artist’s life is actually what trumps all that and drives me to constantly shift from the present moment. Or maybe it isn’t the uncertainty of an artist’s life; maybe it is the uncertainty of human life more generally…
While I ironically have never been one to make long-range plans when it comes to my career or even my personal life, I still have this underlying desire to know. It becomes a bit silly, really – to know what? What is it that I need, or want, to know? That I will have progressed in my work as an artist and teacher? What does that mean? That I will be more ‘fully’ an artist by having more dance jobs that pay and provide for me day to day, because I think that will make me happy? Why is it that I have to know how much longer I plan to be in the city? If I don’t feel like I desperately need to move from NYC, why do I look to the future and put a tentative cap on how much longer I will stay?
As these thoughts circulate, rolling through my mind over and over in a myriad of variations alongside others, I wonder whether it is really Time in a linear sort of sense that we value so much or whether instead it is the rounder, more vast spatial aspect of Time and its inherent capacity to be ‘filled’ with experience that is so priceless. If that is the case, then would it not be wise to more fully dive into the present?
In a book that I am reading, Zen Under Fire, human rights lawyer and advocate Marianne Elliott tries on Pema Chodron’s suggestions to sit in meditation with her darkest thoughts and emotions rather than press them away and comes to find more space in her mind and heart as she continues her work in Afghanistan. Sitting becomes her way of reacting to the turmoil that brews within her. Sitting becomes a powerful action in and of itself; that time on the cushion offers her the chance to absorb, consider, and move forward with attention and a sense of support from the breath.
And so perhaps I have found an intermittent answer to my ponderings….a way of existing with them, rather than freaking out and pouring over the same thoughts again and again, trying to make decisions that will bring me to a deeper sense of contentment. As a Pisces, I often feel as if I’m swimming in a trillion directions at once anyway – craving this and that, being indecisive and then suddenly decisive, though I may change my mind momentarily and, as hard as it may be to believe, knowing that both decisions, even if they are starkly different, were derived from a very honest place. It can be a schizophrenic way of living, emotionally, mentally, and socially; not always negative, but confusing to even myself at times.
Yet in taking time to sit down for more meals, lying in my bed at night reading instead of sitting at my desk in front of the computer, and making less - rather than more - of my free moments in the last week, I have found further avenues towards living more presently. Those leaves on my bike ride offered me the chance to return to my Now and presented me with the stark fact that I am happy, very happy where I am in this very moment. In opening myself to my surroundings, I noticed the quicker pace of the clouds across the sky, I realized that I could see the Empire State Building from one of the Brooklyn streets I regularly bike down, and I felt a part of the community inside the Italian restaurant I sat in while writing this post.
Another line of Tanikawa’s poem (the line that immediately follows his words of impatience, in fact) exemplifies this way of being:
And yet, I want to stay right here on this patch of grass, motionless
Maybe presence does come across as being motionless. Or maybe presence is the ability to stay motionless amid all the motion that exists inside us and out…..
- Liz Beres