Moments of Zen

A couple of weeks ago I listened to a podcast about zen moments. The podcast was also about cat burglars and included an entertaining collection of stories about cats who like to bring things home, including gloves, other people’s underwear and cooked legs of lamb.

But it was the zen moments which resonated with me. These were predominately ordinary actions or repetitive tasks which induced a sense of calm in people. The moments themselves varied quite considerably, and included the untangling of masses of electrical cords or looping up a long length of rope following abseiling, to the act of weeding and creating a sense of order by putting laundry away. The common element was focusing on the task at hand and finding a simple pleasure in creating order or establishing a working rhythm. A sense of calm was created in the mind and these tasks which might otherwise be seen as irritating or time-consuming instead contributed to a sense of well being.

Apart from the ordinariness of the actions, I was struck by how individual these responses were. What created a moment of calm in one person might seem inexplicable to the next. Perhaps it was the mindset applied to the task, or simply a sense that the task had to be done and approaching it with calm acceptance was better than to greet it with resistance and irritation.

This isn’t to say that there won’t be times when the feelings of zen-like calm fail to materialise but it is nice to know that there are instances in which they can appear, regardless of the mundanity of the task. For me, it is the repetitive, endless chores of washing up and hanging out laundry that come to mind, along with the sense of order that follows putting things away. Perhaps it is because there is little required of the mind in those moments apart from repeating actions that have been carried out so often they require little concentration and provide time in which the mind can be satisfied in the motions.

What creates a zen-like moment in your day?

[Photo: a single cloud skipping across the sky, also known to induce a zen-like moment]

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The Kindness of Strangers

Kindness can be expressed in a number of ways, and it can be particularly powerful when it is unexpected. Whilst you may not always be able to rely on the kindness of strangers, it can really make a difference when you experience such a moment.

I have never been bothered by heights. I like the vantage points offered from lookouts and tall towers offering panoramic views. But then I had a moment when I felt suddenly and inexplicably overwhelmed by vertigo.

I had wandered off to explore the Woodford Academy. This was my first visit and it happened to be on an open day when there was a guided tour featuring several artistic installations. Whilst this was interesting, I had wanted to get an idea of the history of the place, and so I left the gathering group and took myself up a rather steep flight of stairs to the first floor to view the old bedrooms. There was a sign on the staircase, which was effectively carved into a corner of the building, advising that the stairs were very steep. I trotted up, only noting as I turned for the second flight that there was no bannister or handrail on the upper section.

I had a good look around the first floor, enjoying the view looking over the garden and onto the highway. It was nice to daydream and imagine some of the scenes that would have passed by, from the days of the gold rush and the arrival of the railways, to men travelling to Sydney as part of the Cooee March.

I could hear the guided tour downstairs and took the opportunity to look closer at the furniture and displays providing insights into earlier times. The crowd moved on and I decided it was time to go. But when I approached the staircase I felt a wave of dizziness at the thought of winding my way down the steps, especially the top section without a handrail. I turned around and went back into one of the bedrooms, unsure as to what to do next. I could hardly call out for help, as the guided tour had moved on. And wasn’t it my fault anyway for not heeding the sign? I moved between the rooms, feeling a bit trapped. Then I heard footsteps on the stairs.

An older couple appeared and looked through the rooms. They said hello and continued talking between themselves about a similar staircase that they had come across, and how tricky it was to navigate. I said nothing, thinking that perhaps I could just follow them down the stairs.

As they were getting ready to go, I mentioned that I was feeling anxious about getting back to the ground floor and without any fuss, the husband offered to guide me. His wife led the way, then he took the stairs down to the corner adjacent to the handrail and reached his hand out to me. It was a simple gesture which eased my panic. He made sure I arrived safely on the ground floor before nodding at my thanks and heading off.

When was the last time you experienced the kindness of a stranger? Or perhaps you were the kind stranger?

[Photo: The Company of Trees by Ro Murray and Mandy Burgess spotted at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba]

Three Moments

There are times when it is easy to get caught up in the challenges and dramas swirling around in our lives. During these periods, I feel like I spend a lot of time in my head, thinking through problems or planning ahead to avoid obstacles. This sometimes means I forget to pay attention to what is around me, until a moment of something ordinary yet beautiful shakes me back into the present.

Sanctuary

A small grove of trees

This is one of the sections of a walk I take occasionally in my village. It is located on a long road, and I tend to walk it of a weekend when there is time to dawdle about and really enjoy the sights and sounds. It might look like a grove of trees, but for me it is a reminder to enjoy moments of serenity and to take in what is around me.

Over the summer there have been flocks of Gang-gang cockatoos swooping through the upper Blue Mountains. A couple of years ago I wasn’t even aware of their existence, but then I saw a great photo at an exhibition at Everglades. The bird in the photo was a shade of lilac blue with a bright red head and it reminded me of a woman in a dressing gown somehow! It has been a delight to see these cockatoos in the area, and my first sighting of them was a flock in some tall gum trees. It took me a moment to work out what they were, and since then I have listened out for their cries and watched them move around the neighbourhood. I spotted these up the road whilst walking my dog (male on the left, female on the right). They weren’t bothered by the pesky human with a small camera finding delight in their everyday actions, and it made me smile for a long time.

Plant

Tea tree blossom after the rain

It is hard to resist a pretty bloom, regardless of how distracted you might be, but paying more attention contributes to my growing appreciation of the natural world. During a walk I spotted this tea-tree in flower, close to a banksia tree. It was just after a morning shower and the blooms were almost luminous.

Have you been surprised by small moments lately?

[Photo: tea tree blossom]

Head In The Clouds

I know that I am in a pocket of relaxation when I find myself watching clouds. The calming sensation of simply watching tufts of vapour gather and take on massed formations before splintering into separate threads – it symbolises a shift into deeper thoughts or just pondering.

There are other times when the natural world offers moments of welcome distraction – spend some time watching the swell and surge of the ocean, or lose your thoughts in lush green foliage under a canopy of trees. There is something elemental about being absorbed, even temporarily, in nature that seems to recalibrate my mind and soul.

This isn’t to say that the usual pattern of thoughts and mental to-dos vanish, but at these times there seems to be more scope to think a bit differently and to puzzle things out.

A quick google search shows that I am not the only cloud appreciator. There is an exquisite time-lapse clip here with calming music to mesmerise the mind on a day when access to the sky is limited, or if there is a cloudless sky.

There is even a Cloud Appreciation Society with thousands of members in over 100 countries. Membership benefits include receiving a cloud a day. Their manifesto rallies against ‘blue-sky thinking’ and advocates that “clouds are for dreams and their contemplation benefits the soul”. I heartily agree with their declaration to all who will listen:

Look up, marvel at the ephemeral beauty, and always remember to live life with your head in the clouds!

During a TED talk by the Society’s founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney (called Cloudy with a Chance of Joy), we are reminded that clouds provide an opportunity to tune in and slow down whilst watching clouds. They offer a chance to find the exotic in the everyday, in an activity that is aimless yet important in providing a legitimate form of doing nothing in an otherwise overly busy life. Cloud watching is good for ideas, creativity and for your soul.

I’m off to do some cloud-gazing. How about you?

[Photo: clouds above Hartley Valley, towards Mt York]

Grains of Gratitude

One of the tiny changes that I’ve made in the past year has been scratching down three things I’m grateful for each day. This concise capturing of moments or things helps to redeem even an otherwise terrible day. And as the habit has become ingrained, I sometimes find myself sifting through a day to find glimpses of things I’m grateful for, as well as noting moments with merit as they happen.

Here are some of the things I’ve been grateful for recently.

  • Open spaces
  • Echidna (spotted scuttling off the road near Lithgow)
  • Laughing with Mum
  • Singing
  • Different experiences
  • Valley views
  • Clouds. Just because.
  • Magpie morning chorus
  • Sunshine
  • Reading in my chair
  • Full moon rising
  • Chores: routines rock
  • Books, my reliable escape
  • Home
  • Scribbling
  • Naps
  • Storm rolling in
  • Local radio
  • Dancing
  • Word joys
  • Being

What are you grateful for in your life?

[Photo: clouds atop Mt Wellington, Hobart]