A couple of years ago I had an opportunity to participate in a short mindfulness retreat. As is standard for such things, the participants were encouraged to remain silent and to pay close attention to everything that took place in each moment of time -- mental states, bodily signals, and of course the external environment. This will sound a bit strange, but one of the peak experiences of my day was the midday lunch break. In my everyday life, I tend to scoff something down, usually while sitting at my desk or perhaps even while driving my car. What a different kind of experience to sit on a riverbank savouring a piece of fruit, contemplating its aromas, textures, flavours and even the life course of this perfect little piece of nourishment on its path from field or tree to my mouth. I can still remember lots of details of that lunch--the way the wind felt on my skin while I was eating, the sound of a nearby windchime mixing with the sounds of moving water, the bright sun in my eyes on that cool, fall day. Now, imagine combining that kind of mindfulness with the experience of eating food but this time not a banana pulled out of a lunchbox but instead with food at its source: the mushroom that grows near the gnarled stump of a tree or the tender shoots of a dandelion plant peeking out from a crack in the sidewalk. How would it feel to have to pay that much attention to your surroundings, not just for an afternoon exercise in mind-sharpening, but in order to survive? In my research on wayfinding, one of the strongest themes I've noticed is that those cultures in which one finds the most highly cultivated sense of place and space were also characterized by this exquisite sensitivity to one's surroundings--a kind of mindfulness. And what inevitably followed from this kind of place tuning was a deep reverence. What if there was some way to capture a little glimpse of how that kind of reverent connection to place might feel? Can modern, urban human beings live off the land? And if they do, what new connections might form between themselves and the sidewalks under their feet? Or with one another? Well, an ambitious project by the fabulously clever and creative group Spurse, called Eat Your Sidewalk, has been proposed to answer exactly these kinds of questions. Take a look. You should give them some dough to make this happen. It's important.
I'm back from England and the first leg of my home pilgrimage. In fact I've been back for some time now. To say that I'm still digesting would be a bit of an understatement. I have photographs, notes, and diagrams that I'm still putting together into....something.....but mostly a lot of churning recollections that come into focus fleetingly and then they're gone again. The good news is that I was able to visit both of my first two homes, meet the wonderful people who live in them now, and through their incredible generosity wander freely through the rooms where I first opened my eyes, took my first steps and, according to one unverified report from a family member, where I peed on the floor a few times as well.
One of the biggest happy surprises of the adventure was the discovery that one of these two homes is still owned by the people who purchased the house from my parents almost 50 years ago. They told me that when they came to look at the house, they saw me playing footie in the back garden. It was a bizarre sensation to see myself, as I'd been such a long time ago, innocent short-pants barely-in-school Colin, kicking a ball around on the grass. I expected my habitation of those old spaces to trigger thoughts and memories -- and it did -- but I hadn't anticipated a distant, tiny image of me as a little boy, in someone else's memory, to unleash such a cascade of feelings.
I'll have more to say soon but I can't rush this. I want to savour it.