I've been thinking about perception a lot lately. The beginning of this reflection was prompted by a recent trip in a zip car. As I turned on the wipers and began to crawl through the NE maze to I-5 I became aware of how little I could see. Even after the foggy windows cleared I could only glimpse the world through windows and mirrors with many blind spots. Driving gives a false sense of security, of being safely ensconced in this metal box which could in an instant become a steel trap or worse, a coffin. This sense of security leaves the mind free to roam miles away from the moment, to take a quick look at the latest text message, change the radio station or take that call, giving way to irritation and anger when other drivers, cyclists or pedestrians call the mind back to sudden awareness of present moment and requiring a split second response. Why is it that we get so irritated when people demand our attention at the present moment, shouldn't we already be there?
When riding my bike the blind spots, foggy windows and mirrors are gone, my vision of the world around me limited only by the flexibility of my neck. I can see in front and behind, but never both. The mind becomes focused on the next moment, will that car turn, will they stop for the sign, is the light going to change, where's the next clear space that I can dart through, and on and on. The mind wanders less, feeling the cool air and rain on the face reminding that every moment counts. The scenery speeds by, lost in a blur. No time to stop and smell that newly bloomed red tulip.
Then there are the days that I take to the streets on foot. The world unfolding slowly, each step moving me seconds through the mile. Time to smile, wave, give a buck, smell a flower, watching the cyclists whiz by in deep focus and motorist motoring by in their own oblivion to the sweet smelling tulip that my daughter and I stop to inhale.
I deeply cherish these slower moments lately. Ten days ago I experienced the world from yet another vantage point, a new perspective, that dropped me to stillness. It was a normal Monday. I cruised to work on the bike, enjoying the strong pulse of energy and oxygen surging through my sunrise express to the Portland waterfront. About two hours into my work day I began to experience a discomfort in the center of my chest. As the day progressed the discomfort demanded more of my attention. By the time I was reunited with my bike I doubted my ability to ride. By then my breathing was shallow and attempts at deep breathing caused a surge of pain into my neck and ears. So I abandoned the bike, bused to my daughter's school and then we walked to another stop to catch a bus to the ER. The courteous staff at Legacy Emmanuel wasted no time in collecting EKG data from me and entertaining my six year old daughter. During my five hours in the ER I had ample time to practice mindfulness, taking comfort in the embrace of the compassionate Tara as her mantra diverted my mind from worries of the unknown. As I was being wheeled to the CT Scanner, my housemate walked with my daughter down the same hallway and out of the ER. In that frozen moment I felt a tear escape realizing that if my lease on this body was soon to end I had surrounded myself and my daughter with an amazing network of loving adults and young friends that would be there to help her on her journey. In those moments I didn't think about religion, politics, my activism, the unfinished screen play, books and poems. All of these concerns evaporated and in the remaining residue of my life I found only love and gratitude.
Before the night was over I had blood work, chest x-rays, a CT Scan and the relief of knowing I did not have a heart attack or anything growing in my lungs. Again, the supportive housemate came to collect me at the ER. I found a sleepy eyed and smiling daughter in my bed, where I gladly curled up next to her for some sweet slumber. One week later all trace of the pain was gone. I see a cardiologist next week just to make sure all is indeed well with my heart.
I haven't resumed my daily bike rides yet, but have opted for the slower route. My daughter and I are monitoring the tulips each day, anticipating which ones will be fully open and admiring the variety of color they bring to our day. There's a particularly sweet smelling red one on the corner of Multnomah Blvd and NE 21st St. So if you rambling by in your car, or rolling past on a bike, you just might want to park it a moment and get out to inhale it's rich aroma. Oh, and there's another little red one hiding it's vibrant colors under the next bush over. It is amazing the world that exists just beyond our vision.