What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
David Whyte (from The Winter of Listening)
I took this picture of the Buchaille Etiv Mor almost two years ago, while walking in Scotland. The name means “great herdsman of Etiv” (the Etiv being a river that curves its way round the foot of the mountain). I was awed by it from the moment it came into view, and that night we slept at an inn that has stood in its shadow for four hundred years. I fell in love with the place, and especially with the mountain itself. I like that it is referred to as a herdsman, since I have often felt held and shepherded by mountains.
Looking at this photograph puts me in mind of David Whyte’s words. I love looking at the pictures from my trip. I enjoy going over the memories in my mind and sensing again something of the beauty and magic of the moments they capture. But there is a distance from the actual experience, a distance created by time and by all the other memories that have followed. I cannot go back to the purity of that exact moment in time.
I am told that our minds are not able to reconstruct a memory perfectly; that what we remember is always changed in some way in the remembering. We create meaning out of our experiences, and in so doing, lose the experiences themselves. This is true even in the moment of being there, at least it often is for me. I am so well versed in the value and importance of making sense of my life, and so immersed in the language of my own mental maps, that I sometimes miss the geography of the actual encounter.
I want to ground myself instead in my senses. Ellen Langer describes mindfulness as noticing, being present by paying attention to what is around us. If I am preoccupied with the smell of my horse, or the softness of his nose, I will be present not only to the moment, but also to him. If I am captured by the light in my husband’s eyes and the sound of his laughter, I can connect more powerfully to him and to the love we share.
My mind is a gift, and creating meaning out of my experience is a valuable part of what it means to be human. I need to evaluate and ponder. I need to articulate all that thinking, to distill it into words that help me to understand myself. I need it so that I can be more aware in my relationships and wise in my choices. But I don’t want to get stuck there. I want to dive down into the realm of pure being more often.