Life as a mirror

A few weeks ago, chaos had been tracking me through my days. I felt it chugging through my veins alongside my blood cells: Urgency. Insanity. Nonsense. Annoyance. Rushing. When I get this way a particular part of me takes over: a manic, starving, prowling hyena. I am at her mercy, bending to her frightened, angry, hyper-alert quasi-will. Things cannot happen fast enough. Everything’s an emergency.

One day during this period I was en route to the Laundromat a mile from my home, in a race with myself to beat an imagined deadline for clean clothes and angry at anyone moving too slowly for my liking (in other words, everyone).

Turning out of my street I spotted a huge dog that had broken off its leash and was running away from its owner, chasing a squirrel, perhaps. It darted dangerously across the intersection, making a beeline to nowhere. As it dash-bounced into a garden and then bounded down onto the sidewalk feet from my car, I realized that it wasn’t a dog but a deer — a young buck with budding antlers. He was on a mission, headed somewhere at top speed, but seemingly unable to decide the destination.

He could have been fleeing something, too. The quality of his energy was frantic and fearful. Maybe he had been spooked by a predator up in the woods and was burning off nervous energy. Maybe he watched a friend get captured and killed.

Whatever the reason, he was determined. When an obstacle presented itself — human, vehicle, actual dog – he swerved 90 degrees, changed direction entirely, or made a wide circle around it so he didn’t have to slow.

It was impossible to know what drove him, and equally impossible not to be rapt by his flight. Deer comb the hills all the time where I live, often crossing streets and trotting down sidewalks. But their manner is calm, tentative, and still. Even when they run there’s a detectable peace and direction in their movement. This guy was up to something different, moved by some manner of disturb.

As he sprang and sprinted out of sight, I resumed my own mission to get to the Laundromat as fast as I could for no reason at all, rolling through stop signs, cutting off pedestrians, tailgating commuters, drumming my fingers at red lights. On the home stretch, after barely tolerating the interminable journey of a woman traversing a crosswalk and swerving exasperatedly around a public works truck, I encountered the runner.

He wasn’t loping along the sidewalk like most others out for a morning run. He was taking long, quick strides down the middle of the street in bright green sneakers. Sidewalks were plainly available to him and he was plainly refusing to utilize them. He darted hither and to in only a slightly more sensible pattern than the deer, zagging in front of my car as I was about to park. As with the deer I couldn’t connect to what he was running to or running from, and why his behavior was so much bigger, faster, and attention-grabbing than every other jogger I’d surely passed that morning.

These two incidents, uncanny in their strangeness, congruence, and timing, finally compelled me to take notice and drop in for a moment. I knew the way I’d been moving through my days lately was irrational. I knew that recent crises and demands had disconnected me from any real sense of presence. I knew that how I was behaving was actually counter-productive and potentially dangerous.

Of course, knowing can only take us so far. Change shows up when we contact it in the physical world. It wasn’t until my jagged energy was shown so plainly to me by the erratic behavior of these two young runners that I could grasp it on a body level and begin to downshift to a gentler pace.

I didn’t have to go very far beyond my own front door to discover this. It’s led me to take note of other ways the world is showing myself to me, subtly and not-so-subtly, in ways that invite me to shift … or at least pay attention.

Wherever you are right now, check out your surroundings and I bet you’ll see yourself somewhere. What is life reflecting back to you? How might the world be inviting you to change gears?

New Ventures West