It’s early on a Monday morning in April. I am doing my qigong exercises, looking out the picture window at the small forest that my study faces.
I concentrate, breathing in and out in rhythm with my postures, keeping balance, remembering the movements, drifting between focus and instinct, losing, and finding, then losing again, that space where the mind surrenders and movement enters.
I am 15 minutes into my practice. Suddenly my eyes no longer see an undifferentiated forest of green, yellow, white, and brown. There in the center of my vision is a large forsythia bush in full bloom. It has been there all along, and I have been blind to its presence. Outrageous yellow reaching in all directions, tendrils stretching to the rising sun. This early harbinger of spring sings out to be noticed. And I almost missed its song.
Nature is not the only place where our focus can be so narrow that we miss the essence of the experience before us. There is a Good Samaritan training exercise that illustrates how the urgency of time can override intentions and form can trump essence.
In the Good Samaritan exercise, each selected trainee is instructed to go to the building next door where an audience is waiting to hear the trainee speak on the subject of compassion. Some are told they have plenty of time to reach the building down the block where their lecture will be held. Others are told that they are already late and should hurry to reach their destination.
What the trainees are not told is that an actor, disguised as a drunk, has been placed on the sidewalk between the two buildings. Those trainees who were told they had plenty of time stopped, gave comfort to the actor, offered money, and showed a desire to help. Those trainees who were told they were out of time hurried to their destination, ignoring the actor, in order to be on time for their appointment to lecture on the subject of compassion.
Whether we are talking about nature’s beauty or the human condition, we are so goal oriented, so acculturated to being on time, that we often miss the nuances that enrich life, deepen experiences, and open new possibilities. We reward punctuality, even when the consequences of punctuality revealed a fragile embrace by which we hold onto our core values.
Of course, we want to stop and be helpful. We consider ourselves as compassionate people. Unfortunately, the urge to be punctual overrides our essential nature in favor of short-term goals. It is when our priorities become muddled that we risk stumbling.
Only later do we realize the shortsightedness of our decisions and how we have been kept from our goal because our anchor values have been overridden. When that occurs, we need to stop and reorient ourselves, take a breath, and slowly exhale. By reframing our experience, we can use the obstacles created by changed circumstances as an opportunity to reinforce our core values.
What else have I missed? A smile, a chance encounter, disguised beauty, a cry for help, the silence of friendship, the strength of a partner?
As my exercises finish for the morning, I vow to find all the forsythia in my life—the ones I trample down in my haste to move on and the ones that must be cultivated to be seen. I vow to slow down the course of my life so it can be appreciated instead of scanned.
Maybe, just maybe, I am the forsythia bush waiting to be discovered. Perhaps I am the one on the sidewalk needing compassion.