I remind myself it is Imbolc and Imbolc is the season of new beginnings and new ideas, new perspectives, new awareness. Imbolc is a renewing opportunity to learn the spiritual, emotional, psychological, basics all over again. This is a good thing, because…
…it’s a trick and a half to walk around in England at the moment and patience is at a premium. Native Brits, following their own instincts, walk on the left just as they drive on the left. And part of coming to England is learning (again) to stand to the left on escalators – especially the long escalators in Tube stations – so that people who are moving quickly can pass on the right. Same goes for sidewalks. [This is a wise thing to (re)learn before renting and driving a car, as well.]
Turns out, the Brits get kind of cranky when you keep them from sprinting up escalators. I have decided that this is because office workers, at least, use them as a form of Stair Master. The culture of driving in England does not easily embrace the idea of ‘undertaking’ – which, if it is a term you don’t commonly use, means passing on the wrong side – in what should be a slower travel lane. The last time we were here I heard a reporter (recently returned from a posting in the US) lamenting the fact that American drivers have gotten so sloppy and thoughtless and dangerous about this practice and it was time Brits learned from their (our) mistakes and cut it out! [I could only agree since it has become an increasingly egregious (and dangerous) problem in Colorado.] Apparently undertaking when walking is similarly distasteful to those who have passed me, tsking just loud enough to be heard.
Anyhow, I am trying to learn to walk on the correct side of the path, escalator, sidewalk, and grocery aisle (although grocery aisles are actually pretty close to a Rugby scrum for some reason – I think it is those carts that roll and spin in all directions like the newer rolling suitcases). But, the tourist season is just beginning to crank up as every country in Europe takes its spring break. So, as it turns out, a whole lot of people walking (and driving) come from places where you do that on the right.
This makes every venture into public like an elaborate court dance of the 16th century.
I find myself face to face with people, strollers, dogs, and bicycles constantly. We smile, give a little bow, and one of us moves to some other place on the path, sidewalk, grocery aisle only to come face to face with someone who is, perhaps, hoping the middle road will be clear, or that all these foreigners will go home, or (if you are a foreigner or immigrant) that the Brits would get with the rest of the world’s program and stay to the right. Another smile (or scowl) or bow or nod and everyone slipsteps to the right (or left).
One does not want to get too involved in a deep conversation with a spouse while trying to move at the same time; in fact, one does not want to try reading a grocery list or looking at directions or checking your watch or answering your phone while moving. Remember when people actually pulled over and stopped in the breakdown lane when they got a phone call or text? Those dark ages less than a decade ago? Walking a London street requires the same focus (at least, from me) that we used to bring to driving.
This is a little irritation that can become a massive irritation very quickly if one is in a hurry or jet-lagged or confused or simply trying to talk to one’s companion. Or an actual injury if one steps too hastily off a curb without remembering the on-coming traffic is coming from the direction you are not looking. Or it can become a blessing. It can become the opportunity to pay attention, to be present in the moment focused on one activity. It can be a sudden dash of freezing awareness that multi-tasking is not all it is cracked up to be – and each of us, individually, has the choice to stop believing that multi-tasking is a necessary fact of life as opposed to an illusion that we have chosen to regard as ‘necessary.’ Study after study has conclusively shown that – in spite of our anecdotal insistence that we, personally, are excellent multi-taskers – no one actually is. It takes more time to multi-task than to complete each separate task in a single-minded manner, and it results in less creativity in 100% of the populace. The human brain is not wired to multi-task. Full stop.
Mindfulness is something more than a Buddhist fad. It is a rich and human way of living that benefits us all. There is something freeing and refreshing and transforming about walking attentively, maybe in silence, so that I notice faces and unfurling leaves and the toddler on the sidewalk in front of me. There is something quite blessed about looking into the eyes of the person approaching me. About allowing myself to be here, now.
I have the benefit of being in a new geographical and cultural space that is constantly nudging me to notice that my life cannot be the same old-same old for the next four months, but I suspect that you are also being offered this opportunity; you may just need to look harder. I invite you to do so as we come to the end of Imbolc. (Re)attune your eyes to the startling and the surprising and the curious – and enjoy.
I offer this small reflection in the hopes that it will blossom you into a new blessing.
imagining, creating, transforming,
questioning all that is now
and all that might become
in the next inhalation.
Tumble me down the rabbit hole
into curiosity and wonder and marvel.
Sidestep me into dancing discovery.
Companion me into attentive priceless now:
into the million million blessings that
offer me the only eternity there is –
this breath brimming with life.
O let it be so.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015, 2014 Immram Chara, LLC