One of my biggest fears with growing older is getting stuck on memory lane with no off-ramp in sight. Yes it’s a cliche, but the phrase going down memory lane gives me shivers. I’ve seen it imprison many a loved one, who begin every sentence with “do you remember when?” and end every conversation with “that was so much fun back then.” Or something along those lines.
But memory lane can afflict anyone, at any age, at any moment. Especially when visiting a long ago place from the past. A visit to my hometown of Seattle last week required a steely sheath of willpower at every corner: the marina where my ex and I once moored a boat I never felt welcome on; the tucked away neighborhood park with a backdrop of Seattle’s skyline I practiced cartwheels on; the dive bar that used to pour cheap strong bloody mary’s now turned hipster joint serving frilly overpriced whatchamacallits. Horrors…
So when I considered visiting a favorite beach of my younger years, I hesitated. Am I gonna cry? Pine for the old days of gossiping with girlfriends atop neon beach towels over who stole whose boyfriend and how did that space cadet ever make it into the honors program? Would I wish for a way to get back here more to watch my nieces grow and cuddle with my mama’s new 7-pound Shih Tzu? Stare at the distant ferry and reflect back on past training rides around hilly Bainbridge Island? Actually I did all that. But I also recognized exactly what I was doing: going down memory lane. And then I sought a way out. And what resulted has since inspired a new category for my blog, that aligns with my overall theme of And Pause Here:
Describe a scene: a beach in North Seattle”
Getting present, or living life as it is happening, as opposed to playing dead by ruing over what already happened (memory) or anticipating what has not yet happened (future) and may actually never happen, requires conscious attention. Seeing what you see in front of you. Hearing what you hear around you. Smelling what you smell near you. Feeling what you feel physically. Yoga is an incredible conduit into presence. Through action in the flow of the poses, through conscious breathing and drishti (gaze). If you teach, through observation and giving tools to your students in the moment based on what you see.
But writing a scene as it unfolds in front of me is also, I discovered through this exercise, an avenue into presence. I didn’t have a pen and paper handy as I typically do, but the Notes app on my iPhone worked fine. The phrases that emerged through the exercise isn’t of much importance to me, because looking back at the result now is really just another trip down memory lane. But the very act of recording my experience got me more present than I recall being in a very long time, and for that I’m intrigued and inspired by how describing a scene can be a huge awakening into my life as it is unfolding right now.
Here’s what I recorded, and remember, the purpose here wasn’t to create some poetic masterpiece or generate any oohs or ahhs, but to simply describe life as I saw it in the moment:
- dried seaweed mottled shades of pickled green underfoot giving off an odor most would pinch their nose at but made me flare my nostrils wider with remembrance
- a familiar marine breeze tickling my skin on this late August afternoon – neither dry nor humid, something else entirely, specific to this northwest corner of the world
- rogue doggy turds here and there that missed the scoop bag
- driftwood turned sculpture via nature’s moods
- small laps of Puget Sound waters curling at the rocky edge
- giggly kiddos bent low foraging for interesting rocks minded by back packed parents not quite warm enough to ditch the sleeves
- multi car freight train competing with the water’s symphony. Not sure who won…
- pointy-topped evergreens providing the backdrop behind me
- stiff bottom atop a splintered half log I can’t yet bring myself to leave…it’s become this morning’s silent narrator of the magnificent scene surrounding me, keeping me present, and protected from the past
- off-kilter seagull happy to let the tide drift him to wherever
- shadowy, ghostlike mountain range peering back at me, only revealing a silhouette of its soul
- my own shadow reflected back at me through the meandering foundation of sand, seaweed, stones and wood particles – so that’s the shape of me knee, my elbow..