Thursday, May 8, 2008

Here and Now

7:45am. A knock on the door. I swivel my chair and see Kennie at the door. I have been expecting her. We leave for our morning walk.
Today is the first of - hopefully - many more morning walks. We have decided to have a morning walk built into our routine.
Cutting through the fields, we reach the 'trail' - once a rail track now a paved 5-feet wide trail that passes through open farm land, cuts through woods, crawls through a tunnel, and brushes several backyards on its way to the bridge over a river. Cyclists, walkers, runners, skaters frequent this trail.

We walk a walkie-talkie: walking and talking. I recollect a passage from Thoreau's Walking:
"When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods ... Of course it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is -- I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods? I suspect myself, and cannot help a shudder when I find myself so implicated even in what are called good works -- for this may sometimes happen."
I mention this to Kennie. With me, it has mostly been walking for the purpose of thinking. Usually when I am writing a paper, or prepping for teaching, and am confused about something, I usually take a break and go walking. Sometimes I am thinking about the paper all the time that I am walking, and sometimes not. But when I get back to my desk, I have attained a clarity that is a result of not only the physical activity of walking but also of thinking.
Thoreau, however, would take a strong objection to what I would call as 'walking'. "I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks." For Thoreau, walking is not just a physical activity; it is a state of mind, a state of being that entails being 'here and now'. It means not carrying the village to the woods. "Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps."
It reminded of the following story:
Guru Nanak, was traveling in Mecca when a Qazi, challenging Nanak's open mindedness, invited him to join them in the prayers (Namaz) at the local mosque. When the namaz ended, the Qazi was offended that Nanak had not gone through the motions others went through in the prayers. Nanak replied that had others been actually praying, he would have joined them in those motions. But they were not wholly present: During the prayers, the Qazi was worried about the new-born calf at his house falling into the open well and another was thinking about the upcoming business deal of Arabian horses.
I experience this wandering every time I go to Gurudwara. I am not present there. Thoreau would say, what business have I in the Gurudwara, if I am thinking of something out of the Gurudwara?
Whether it is Thoreau’s walk, or Nanak’s prayer, or Buddha’s vipassana, the idea of being present in the present is to be focused, to be in the moment, to be aware and mindful, not so as to avoid being someplace else, but to be here and now.

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