This morning I awoke to a light rain, opened my blinds and windows and watched the reflections of the trees wave in the glass as I read Douglas Brooks’ very long introduction to his new translation of the Bhagavad Gita. My sheets are dark brown cotton, rather worn but nicely stiff. I have a lovely fluffy down duvet loaned to me by some nearby friends. Every now and then I looked up to track the darkening and moving of the sky. Occasionally the rain dribbled with a beat but mostly it misted and so the birds continued to sing and coo. I had a small espresso in a ceramic stemmed cup with violets painted on the outside of it and I thought, what is just so lovely about reading a book in France in bed and in the rain on a Sunday morning?
A few days ago I found jasmine growing on a small street and spent a few minutes just sniffing and sniffing. Wisteria are profuse and drippy all over town but their scent is diffuse and doesn’t have a long memory track in my mind. The jasmine made me so happy. A deep inhalation and a warming in my belly, a dancing of my brain thinking of weddings and beautiful Nedjmas and Fatimas. I walked up the little street and then looped back again for more. I took the jasmine twice. And then, astonishing delight, on my way back to the concrete graffiti stairs, white lilacs. I looked up and down the street. No one was about so I had some long luxurious sniffs. I think lilacs are my favorite flower smell. In the lilac is a little sharpness, a little stabby olfactory gesture that is missing from the more certainly sweet jasmine.
My senses are my entertainment most days. I wonder if I was giving them too little time in the pre-confinement epoch. They can be like family members, we complete their sentences for them, assume we already know what they like. “Oh yes, it’s a velvet cushion, it’s soft, moving on, time to get some math homework done.” Or, “ah, coffee, you like that smell and taste, but let’s think about meetings and schedules and have a little mind fit.” It’s like the mind says to the body, yes, yes, I know what you think or feel but we have got much more pressing business. The tyranny of the clock, of the future, of the plans to be made and right now. But business, oh it does not press now. Sometimes I get an email asking me to weigh in on some relative future problem and my mind says “aha there is that stress we know, now I have something to do and you can stop sitting there watching cloud graynesses.” Because right now that is what I’m doing every few minutes. The sky to the left has a cold blue vapory quality whereas up above it is starkly grey like a Hitchcock movie but down to the right it looks like a violet mousse. And then it changes.
So really, mind, I laugh at you, as does God or the universe. You simply cannot make a good chart to control the reality of September 1 or even May 11. I put things on my calendar but I do not know if they will occur or change or disappear.
I love tango dancing and yoga because there’s more body presence and a lot less chatter. And in headstand or in the embrace my plans become very limited, the next step, the next inhalation or leg extension are all my brain gets and so the body fully inhabits the hands, the warmth, the tiny movements. My senses get to smell the cologne, propriocept a bunch of balancing and hear a whimsical piano solo hidden in the sad song.
I recently read a sentence that I have been thinking about for days. “sensual meditations—meditative savoring of food and music, as well as slowed down and ritualized acts of refined awareness like the Japanese tea ceremony—[…] allow us to cultivate our ability to allow the senses to meet their objects fully.” And then I read a great line in my friends’ new book about phenomenological accounting. Have I been allowing my senses to meet their objects fully? I think not. I think I have been rushing them even though I had the best intentions. Spring is a fantastic time to give the senses more time to meet their objects. There are subtle flowers to smell, cool breezes to notice, shifting light patterns to observe, and now that we are confined I can hear so much more. I love the sound of two feet jogging down my little street, or the light clickety whir of one bicycle or the rumbling that means my son is skateboarding home.
Because it’s not just our senses meeting their objects fully but also coming back to us fully to inform us that the world is so much more than we think.