Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

I live near the end of a county-maintained road in the middle of an oak forest. This narrow winding road is oddly interrupted by double sets of speed bumps. The bumps are there to slow people down so they don’t run over innocent animals and each other while rushing headlong to take care of daily business.

On a quiet afternoon, I have listened to the grind of impatient drivers accelerating between the bumps, locked in a fierce battle with the option of going slower the whole way. They slow way down to whump, whump over them, then accelerate again, and so on down the road.  And so these odd little obstructions have become darkly comical to me. They point out the shadow side of living “in the country” to enjoy the slower pace of life. I guess the builders of this road concluded that we’d need speed bump reminders to protect us from ourselves and our delusional tendencies while driving. I think the animals appreciate them.
But for humans, running late, or wrapped up in a dream of forward momentum at all costs, is there anything more annoying than a speed bump?



This same bumpy country road is also a place where I can walk without getting in my car again to seek out a more secluded trail for a wilder hike, and this is a big plus. So it is convenient, but it is not what I want. I recently fell into an oppositional funk about this unhappy compromise. I disliked everything about being out there. Not just the twelve sets of speed bumps, and the ironical sets of signs announcing each one, but also the casual littering by those who pass regularly; the fractured surface of the road; the dead manzanita bushes discarded by an overzealous fire crew; the leaning, overloaded power poles and bizarrely top-cut trees beneath the sagging wires; just the general lack of life and care.

It wasn’t wild enough, or beautiful enough.
Why is beauty so casually discarded for perceived efficiency? 
Freely I followed the tracks of my whining dislike.

I decided to try to poke at this cloud of my dislike, to find a new perspective. Up close, these hard working speed-bumps take on a remarkable, buttery shimmer. Those haphazard tar patches artfully interrupt the cosmic flicker of the quartz speckled asphalt. I was peering into something completely new.

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I discovered that the road did not ask for, or imply, movement. In fact, buzzing with heat in the afternoon sun, it embraced stillness. I sat in the grassy shade of the shoulder and melded with it. I took on all the fractures and speckles of my own skin, my life.



Then I was unexpectedly visited by vivid thoughts of other places I had tucked away in my “opposition zone.” I ventured into one of those: my childhood home. I visited each room, followed the layout, saw the colors my mother had painted on the walls. I noticed my beloved, blind grandmother, my first meditation mentor, sitting as she often did quietly in my parent’s blue bedroom. I had no idea I could remember this so clearly. My brother died too young of a terrible illness in this house. There were traces of our arguments, teasings, chronic misunderstanding, frightening dreams, grief and anguish, but also imagination, vacation plans, personal spaces, love and security.

Kirk & Corey Hitchcock circa 1960, in front of new house in San Carlos, CA

That childhood house of mixed memories was no longer taboo. The sweet visceral recall of leisure time spent at home there was now welcome ballast in my overly mobile lifestyle. And likewise, the road had transformed to a place of discovery, patterns, beauty and imagination instead of exile and negative projection. Seeing through it: not doing or going was the key.



I had slowed down enough to allow a road and myself to hold silence and spaciousness.
When I travel the road now in my car or on foot, I wonder how the surface has changed, what new traces of travel mark my favorite bumps. I also feel the light touch of the universe.

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Freely I track the cosmos of the flying road.

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