It was a mild afternoon by July in Nebraska standards. The sky was partly cloudy. There was a light breeze of about 10-miles-an-hour. The weather monitor read 81 degrees Fahrenheit with 42 percent relative humidity. A squirrel was chattering at a calico cat and a blue jay joined in the alarm. A young couple was out for their daily bicycle ride, the man’s bike was rigged up to tow a small trailer that contained an infant. I settled onto the porch step with my ubiquitous cup of hot coffee.
It was only a few city blocks that separated this mellow scene from the busy activity of the main street which led towards the downtown district. The peaceful scenario was suddenly interrupted by the siren and the bleating bass-horn of a fire department pumper truck. The sound moved from North to South then became nearly imperceptible. The racket from the emergency traffic startled the cat so she scampered away. The squirrel continued its scolding anyway. The blue jay had disappeared during the confusion.
Once again, relative peace and calm began to envelope the neighborhood. The coffee had cooled just enough so I could enjoy a good balance between temperature and flavor.
I noticed that my aversion to noise and confusion had manifested during those few minutes. To only want to partake of the pleasant conditions of the afternoon; to cringe at the sounds of the cat being chastised and the fire truck going to an emergency was insensitive.
To filter out unpleasantness and uphold beauty narrows the mind to the full reality of the world around us. I wanted to indulge in the agreeable weather conditions and calm nature of my surroundings. The urge to deny the less pleasing aspects was a way of shutting part of my awareness down. This is a normal human trait. However, when I am able to resist the urge to filter out “negative” sights and sounds, it is actually easier to more fully appreciate the “positive” events going on around me. I still have a lot of work to do in order to attain such mindfulness.
The subjective practice of defining some things as “good” and other things as “bad” is, itself, a catch-22 situation. Being aware of categorizing is often seen as “good”, while actually categorizing is derided as “putting things in boxes”. To identify or condemn certain things or people enables the conflict of opposites. This conflict escalates in the mind and clouds our thinking. If one is mindful of this conflict, then he can work to carefully extricate himself from the line of thinking without condemning the conflict.
A situation or fact that is approached objectively without condemnation or justification tends to lessen conflict. Objective facts do not have opposites, they just exist. The conflict arises when I favor or repel the fact. When I prefer to sit peacefully on the step and reject the rest of what is going on elsewhere, I am placing things in boxes. I’m not fully present in the moment. If I willfully focus only on the pleasant I reject the people and other living beings within the town. The pleasure I feel is superficial. I’m denying the interconnectedness of the world around me.
The loud rumbling of a red Ford Mustang’s engine tells me my neighbor is arriving home. He nods at me and I wave back. The coffee is cold, but I drink the rest of it anyway. If I have to judge the afternoon, I’d say it has been OK. I take a deep breath and go back inside the house.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes contemporary philosopher, Alain de Botton. “Sweetness is the opposite of machismo, which is everywhere–and I really don’t get on with machismo. I’m interested in sensitivity and weakness and fear and anxiety because I think that, at the end of the day, behind our masks, that’s what we are.”