Saturday, July 13, 2013

Counting Bicycles in Manhattan and Mailboxes in Arkansas

I recently renewed a goal that I've renewed so many times, even a library would lose patience with my perpetual renewals.  Some days, some moments, I think I've got the hang of it, then totally forget I'm working on it.  It's scary what "a mind of its own" my mind has, especially when my goal is Mindfulness.

One minute I'm living in the present moment, paying attention to the flowers in the vase in front of me, the next I'm miles away reliving a conversation I had two weeks ago or imagining one I plan to have two weeks hence.  I can walk the length of the Brooklyn Bridge for my morning exercise without noticing that I've passed under both arches and that it's time to turn around.

Sound familiar?  In a selfish way, I hope so.  There's a skewed kind of comfort in knowing I'm not the only one walking around in a mindless fog.

Over a year ago, I heard two authors discuss their recent book, Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World on NPR.

Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford and Denny Penman, biochemist and author, got my attention when they mentioned "autopilot," a role my mind loves to play.  Before I know it, the autopilot has taken over, and I'm just along for the ride.

"When you cede too much control to autopilot, you can easily end up thinking, working, eating, walking or driving without clear awareness of what you're doing," the authors write.

"The danger is that you miss much of your life in this way.  
Mindfulness brings you back, again and again, to full conscious awareness: a place of choice and intention." 

So, to renew my efforts once again, I decided to try an experiment, to periodically switch off the autopilot, to tune into "real" life. I decided to count bicycles. Morning commuters pedaling their way to work across the Brooklyn Bridge would be my signal to break the cycle of "elsewhere" thinking and pay attention as they passed me by.

The first morning I counted 41, the next 42, the next 26 (sprinkling rain), and on. . .
I found myself noticing people, some of the same people every morning. I even spoke to two or three, and to my surprise one person spoke back. Engaging with life felt invigorating!

Now I'm back at our home in Arkansas for a month, with no bicycles to count on my morning walk, to awaken my mindless wanderings.  But there are horses, mailboxes. . . .



 scenes of beauty
secrets among the grass

May they each remind me to notice what is before me, to disengage the autopilot and be mindful of
the moment.


  1. On long drives we count water towers. On the way to swim lessons the other day, Lexi started counting fire hydrants. Horses and cyclists sound like more fun to count!

    Your Arkansas home always looks so lovely and peaceful!

  2. You and Lexi are such mindful people! I'll keep my eyes open for water towers and fire hydrants. :-)
    Yes, our Arkansas house is very peaceful and quite dry this time of the year. Watering is one of my favorite pastimes. Perfect time for mindfulness.


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