I love, during my walks in Paris, to stop in one of the many small parks that you find in the capital. I sit on a bench and rest while observing, listening: Some children are having some fun a little further, pushing each other on the slides, playing on the swings. I hear the gate slam from time to time, when a mother arrives with her child, an old man leaves with his dog. Not all the benches are occupied. Some old ladies are chattering on one of them, two lovers are kissing tenderly. Some older men are playing pétanque and the balls are slamming, breaking the joyous monotony of the carousel music. Some children are shouting with joy. Suddenly, a din of flapping wings falls on me. A swarm of pigeons, lured by abundant crumbs of bread, swoops down on the nearby bench. A few scattered sparrows come to join in the feast. A couple is passing by, stopping for a moment, while their little dog is stretching in the lawn. A young woman is walking fast. Friction of wings. All around, the trees rise majestically and protect all this little world from the warm rays of the sun. They are like big umbrellas and their tall rough trunks spring from the ground, sometimes seeming to counterbalance their bending choice, like big tensed muscles.
A little girl has been pedalling energetically for an hour. She’s been crossing the garden in every direction, never tired. The sky, uncompromisingly blue, contrasts with the green foliage. Some clouds are hanging here and there. The leaves are quivering in the breeze and make a nice soothing sound, that comes and goes like a wave. The birds are now replete and dispersed, some are huddling on the ground for a nap. My mind is calm and it struck me that it had been so for some time now. There is great beauty in being aware of what is happening around you. It is like a meditation, a light and choiceless contemplation of life as it unfolds. Just noticing ‘what is’. This puts you in a very special place: the present moment. In a way, it binds you to the underlying beauty and tranquility of the world. And this brings a peace that makes you, in turn, look at the world in a way that is fresh and new. How would it be to go about in the world meeting things as they are, always. Never turning away from the formidable ‘isness’ of life. And it is one thing to do it with external occurrences, but what about the inner happenings? How would it be to notice every thought and feeling as we do of a woman passing in the park, a dog stretching on the lawn, a swarm of pigeons, or ‘the exquisite cigarette butt floating in a pool of rainwater in the gutter’, as Joan Tollifson wrote once?
What if we could watch ourselves in the same detached, uncompromising, uncomplicated way as when we see something ‘real’ in the world. What would be the reality of what we name ‘ourselves’, of the little ‘me’, with its endless stream of thoughts, feelings, problems, all the seemingly hard stuff of our existence? Where are we when we look at the sky, at a little girl pedalling away in the park, or hear the pétanque ball slam? What is there other than the sheer ‘what is’ of existence? There is a melting, dissolving force in ‘what is’, in observing things as they are. And what is disappearing, what is being pushed out of the picture, is ‘you’. Plain little ‘you’, with its endless stories and content separate from everything else.
Of course, we want to save ourselves, to survive! We are so damn fragile and inconsistent… We are afraid, uncertain, sad, angry, violent. Why does the mind have a tendency to be mechanical, to repeat things in the same, usual way, and lose its creativity, its impulse, its intuition, its intelligence, its liveliness, its lightness? Is it just because we want to possess these qualities, and think we have to dig them out through multiple, extraordinary experiences? We think that they cannot be here, present at the heart of our current experience, however small and unassuming that may be.
A lady is now coming through the gate with her little dog on the leash. The lovers on the bench have left but some children are still playing. The street lamps which were absent until now are twinkling; their light slowly appears, taking over after the declining sun. The breeze has changed into a fresh, biting wind, and the pigeons have returned to their nests. I’m a little cold. Somebody is calling me, and I turn around. My friend is here. I get up, a little numb. This is it! Life is all here. The moment, whatever it brings, is nothing less than the totality of life, and is whole. No need for commenting, thinking it out, believing it can be arranged, made more perfect. No. It is here and now. This is how you spend a whole afternoon pedalling away in the park, enjoying it thoroughly. Looking for something more, for another better experience is madness and sheer waste. Presence is all.
Text (and smaller photo) by Alain Joly
Head Photo by StockSnap / Pixabay
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