The older I get, the more I come to appreciate the character of each season of the year and what each has to offer. The beginnings of the seasons in particular, when the last season is only just behind us and the new is only just asserting itself, are full of new beauty. This Spring already is offering up glorious assertions of its presence. You can become captured in one of these assertive moments at unexpected times and almost anywhere, but sometimes I like to put myself in places where people haven’t asserted themselves on nature so much, and thus increase my chances that nature and her season can assert themselves on me. I just returned from a trip where I did some hiking in hopes of just such an encounter with Spring.
If you’ve ever been hiking, you know the subdued excitement of walking into the broken shadows of a trailhead, leaving your car and the pavement and that rustic wooden fence behind. With the first steps onto the trail, getting acquainted with the feeling of the woods, how quiet or noisy the birds are, how tall are the trees and how dense their canopy – your senses are alive with sight and smell and hearing and feeling. But you’re not aware of this; you’re only aware of what’s around you.
At least for a mile or so. Then, if you’re like me, your brain smoothly transitions from complete external sensory mode to a problem you’ve been trying to work out, or a movie you just watched. This may consume your mind while you meander through the woods on autopilot until nature asserts herself again, with a captivating vista, or by tripping you with a rock or an exposed root. After this pattern repeats several times, you may finally recognize what’s happening. You’re incapable of being continually present to what surrounds you, even when you’ve made an intentional effort to remove yourself from distractions and place yourself within an environment specially suited to capture you. You may then determine to keep your senses alive and your vain, distracting imaginings at bay. But how?
I found that in the absence of spontaneous, effortless sensory appreciation and awareness of what’s around me, I have two other thought modes: distracted imagination, or conscious self-awareness. The distracted imagination is what I need to suppress, because it often rules me more than I rule it. Thankfully though, moments of conscious self-awareness happen intermittently throughout the imaginings. If they’re not taken advantage of, they will slip back into the imaginings. But in the moment I become aware of my own imaginings, I have the freedom to choose to think of something else. In that moment, I must turn to what’s around me. In order to begin to appreciate with my senses the moment that surrounds me, I, with my consciousness, must assess it. I begin to do this with adjectives.
This is a very practical and useful method, I’ve discovered. When you’re experiencing a moment fully, your heart is actually uttering all kinds of adjectives, qualities, and attributes that your brain can’t grasp and your mouth can’t pronounce. But when you’re not quite at that level, you can begin with the adjectives you do know and can pronounce. Start with a tree, a bird call, the sky color, or the burning in your legs. Begin describing them. Describe the feeling of the moment itself. This exercise will keep your attention on what’s outside your own mind. Maybe after a few adjectives your heart will offer its own contribution, and that’s the moment when what’s outside asserts itself and you connect. Like lightning from the sky connecting with an upward streamer from the ground, nature discharges at the upward and outward offering your heart makes in its direction. But you may have to positively charge your heart with conscious adjectives first.
Take time to be present to the world around you, especially nature and her seasons. Turn off the gnawing, ever-present imaginings that too often distract us by paying attention to the here and now. Be adjectival, and connect to each moment.