YOU HEAR A LOT about mindfulness these days. You hear less about awareness, the sister of mindfulness. They’re two sides of the same coin really. Just as the mind can be sharpened into focus — this is mindfulness — the mind can also be fuzzed out and panoramic — this is awareness. Zoom in to a pinpoint — mindfulness. Zoom out to take in the open space all around you — awareness.My friend Juan and I rode bikes through the Heights yesterday. We didn’t have a destination in mind when we started out. We just went. You end up getting to know your neighborhood more intimately that way, coasting along on intuition, taking unexpected turns at the last second when an arcade of trees catches your attention, finding little alleys that open up into fresh pockets of homes you never knew existed, and you realize how much your view of the world is shaped by the perspective of your car and its dutiful habit of getting you where you need to be in the most straightforward manner. So we ended up at a nursery, walking through a maze of native vines which morphed into a bazaar-of-sorts we weren’t quite sure we could enter at first because it seemed like some kind of warehouse maybe.
“Ten dollars,” the salesman said, knowing we wouldn’t resist his offer, not when we were ogling her like we were. We’d stopped in front of a headless mannequin at the foot of a green-and-yellow staircase. Her arms were long and limber and the stump of her neck tapered into a shapely lipstick-like point. She didn’t have any legs below the knees, and the way she was displayed on a steel-rod stand made it seem like she was hovering. Sold.
The mind can zoom out and zoom in. Bike-riding is a great way to cultivate zooming out. It gets you out into the open and, rolling and turning, you really feel the space around you. Of course you’re being mindful also, zooming in to scan the road in front of you for dangerous holes or giant acorns or whatever, but you’re also zooming out to become aware of the larger traffic flow that’s happening, how cool the breeze feels, the fabric of birdsong around you, how long until the sun sets.
One minute you’re taking in the autumn colors and birdsong all around you. The next minute you’re eyeing a very specific grapefruit you’re planning on plucking from a low-hanging branch which, to be honest, is practically begin to be picked, although technically it’s probably theft. Working both knobs of the microscope simultaneously, so to speak, you can find the right balance between too zoomed in and too zoomed out, staying mindful enough to nimbly navigate any hazards which may present themselves, often out of nowhere, yet aware enough to notice the very atmosphere around you.
One minute you’re walking through a seemingly ceilingless warehouse, having taken a right turn past a wet statue of Neptune. The next minute a salesman is pointing to a mannequin finger on the floor, a crooked right index finger. Juan didn’t hesitate. He made plans to come back for his mannequin on Tuesday. I didn’t hesitate either. I picked up her finger and put it in my pocket.