Attention to detail

There are a few Buddhist monks who live across the street from me. When we meet on the sidewalk, I wave and tilt my head a little and am always greeted with a smile, a brief bow and an elusive feeling of reassurance.

I can see them walking, or sweeping their steps, from the front room of my apartment. Their saffron and crimson robes trail behind them like the tail fins of goldfish swimming in a bowl as wide as all outside, and sometimes I catch myself tapping my fingers lightly on the window as they pass by. They don’t startle, not even a little. They just keep walking, slowly, taking it all in.

I am not a slow walker. On the contrary, I am regularly told I walk faster than is normal, polite or comfortable for others, and asked if I’m on the lamb or just rushing to catch the second half of a basketball game at the bar down the street. I’m working on it, though, and someday I will amble.

It’s spring in the River City, and a person couldn’t ask for a better time or place to engage in, or at least experiment with, purposeful slowness — a watchfulness for the small things around us and the willful appreciation of small joys.

At every turn, some sound, some billboard, someone demands our alarm, opinion, reaction or impatience. Soundbytes and bylines about the big picture and its attendant big problems are an oppression all their own. I add to the noise in this publication from time to time when I rail against what I perceive to be an often malignant culture. The sky is falling after all, and it’s incumbent upon us to engage in at least a quasi-intelligent discourse. But the abstracted intellectual contortions we perform in an attempt to be thoughtful and aware can divorce us from actual experience.

It seems like deliberate, thoughtful attention to experiential beauty gets caught in the crossfire and at times is truly imperiled. I’d like to avoid any casualties, especially right now in this season when there is so much to be cataloged.

I made a list of a few small joys and observations that I hope to be more acutely aware of and thankful for this spring. They are loosely categorized by physical sensations.

Sight — There is a spider building a nest in the screen outside my window, she is very fastidious. I have one package of Polaroid film left, and I will not be upset if I waste it on stupid pictures. The neon L&N sign at Ninth and Broadway still looks really cool. Women are beautiful. In the country, you can see more stars. The oak tree in the yard is pushing out new leaves that look just like oak leaves but are very, very small. Sunlight passing through stained glass windows in cathedrals is calming to me. Turtles like to hang out together. Sunlight passing through the leaves of trees in the forest is calming to me.

Taste — Quiche, mint, cheese, salami, kale, gin and tonic with two limes please, garlic, hibiscus tea, olives, cucumber salad, peach, dandelion greens, basil, sprouts, burnt bratwurst, American swill beer, black pepper, vinegar.

Smell — Dirt, Turkish coffee, cut grass, bread, onion, spice bush, sweat, lavender, manure, sage, wildflowers, charcoal grill, sawdust, campfire, melon, lemon, cherry blossom, mulch.

Touch — Lake water, swimming hole water, creek water, driftwood, horse hair, steering wheel, breeze, hands, railroad track, sun, tall grass, haircut, thin T-shirts, guitar strings, sand, pillow, clover.

Hearing — Sounds that I hope to hear more of soon: jokes, Thin Lizzy, owls, a pretty voice singing, Warren Zevon, wind, hawks, bicycle tires, kids playing outside, Sacred Harp, whippoorwill, cows, various chirpings, clarinet, laughing, bells in the distance, whispering, Sandy Denny, water dripping from a spring into a creek, bad jokes, old time, country and blues 78s on a Califone record player, trains, banjo, finches, rivers, gravel, “guitars tuned good …,” carnival barkers, quiet.

I’ve been rushing around most of my adult life, and I get the gist of it. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. All too easy to avoid, though, are patience and intentionality. I’m taking this season, then, the spring months of 2010, to slow down a little and savor these little things that I’m able to experience with my senses. There are more, and I’m going to keep a list of observations and small joys. I’m not in any hurry, though.