Emerging out of the woods, I imagine the fireflies are will-o-the-wisp. I am bidden to their light. Beside the tree. The verdant moss. That patch of sky just out of reach. I don’t know where I am going, but they call and I follow; though unlike Merida I move out of the darkening thicket to stumble upon setting sun and grassy lawn.
It is approaching dusk and the cicadas are humming. When I breathe I feel the humidity heavy upon my chest. Asthma is no joke. Neither are these extra pounds I carry around my waist. Nor my reemergence from months of mostly sedentary science. Moving feels wonderful yet – admittedly – I dragged myself out the door.
Walking through this Silver Spring neighborhood, I am reminded of my former home, Jamaica Plain. Granted, the houses are detached single-occupancy residences. Far from the two-, three-, four-, and multi-residence condos and apartment homes of the city. I am in the D.C. suburbs after all. As I walk I am greeted by vegetable gardens housing towering tomato plants and bright orange marigolds. Lawn signs read “Hate has no home here”, “No matter where you’re from we’re glad you’re our neighbors” (in multiple languages), and “Black Lives Matter”. Some roofs have solar panels. Gutters empty to rain barrels; sustainable watering sources. There are wild bunnies. Wild bunnies.
I hear multiple accents. Multiple languages. I wander upon an impromptu dog park to find neighbors of various race/ethnicities, genders, and sizes conversing as their dogs of various breeds, genders, and sizes sniff and romp and run. It is mostly quiet save for the whistling dog owners and low chatter. The metallic “thunk” of baseball bat to ball, two preteen boys calling to each other to “Catch it!” and “Get ready!”.
I told myself I’d walk for 20 minutes. And then 30. By then I was so enthralled with calm and houses and forest and sweat and heavy humid breathing that I kept moving for yet 30 minutes more. Momentary check-ins and decision-making led me to and through my 3.6 mile, 60-minute wander. Tonight, I listened and responded.
I am not great at listening and responding (to myself at least). I get caught up in external pressures (actual, imagined, or created) and neglect to check-in. If clued into my discomfort or joy (or any feelings really), I revert to automated habits and coping mechanisms: food, drink, sleep, dog, food, Netflix. Automaton Jo. Often, these behaviors do not feel fun nor fulfilling nor comforting. Well, except Bryce (dog); she’s almost always amazing. But the rest of them – without intention – are meaningless acts.
Before walking, I watched two episodes of Orange is the New Black, while laying in bed under the covers. It was intentional and comforting. I listened and responded to my exhausted mind and body and made a choice to rest. To zone out. But, after two episodes I began to feel empty.
I took out the trash to “stretch my legs” and, in doing so, realized that I wanted to REALLY stretch and move. “Walk” my body told me. “Really? But it’s hot and humid and I’m tired” said my automaton brain. “Just eat dinner and curl up.” “Walk” insisted my body. I walked into my room and donned lycra and cotton workout wear before dragging automaton Jo out the door. For one moment, I checked-in, listened, and responded to my body. I was mindful.
I’m in D.C. to attend the National Cancer Institute’s summer fellowship program in Cancer Control and Prevention. (Yes, I know that’s a mouthful.) It’s a month-long training program and in mentally prepping to attend I’ve thought a LOT about how I want to use my time. To study and learn, yes. To continue writing manuscripts-in-progress, yes. To network, yes. To find future collaborations, yes. But also to “set” my life, my schedule, my habits. Yes, I meant “set” not “reset”. I don’t want a do-over. I don’t think I’ve been living my life wrong. I don’t need to “redo” it. But, I do want to move forward differently. I’ve grown weary of automaton Jo. She feels irrelevant. Ironically, one of the research projects I’m coordinating is testing the feasibility of a mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention with rural lesbians. Throughout the duration of this project I’ve given lip service to beginning a meditation practice. To actively learning the principles of mindfulness: paying attention, to the given moment, and without judgment. I’ve not begun a regular meditation nor mindfulness practice. Not at all. But, I believe that studying mindfulness is connected to my weariness with automaton Jo. I want to be mindful of ME. And, I’m VERY interested in who independent, getting another divorce, moving through (and eventually emerging from) financial hell, gonna live by herself (okay, with her dog), and grow up into a doctor Jo is. How SHE wants to live.
I don’t know how future doctor, independent, living with her dog (I originally typed g-d and don’t think that was unintentional. Thank you, Universe.) Jo wants to live. But, I’m guessing that if I listen to her mindfully that she’ll tell me. If I can move past automaton brain and check-in with my body, heart, and spirit in the moment and without judgment, I know my true direction will emerge. My path will be set as it was earlier this evening, as I emerged from the woods bidden by fireflies – or will-o-the-wisp. Either way, it was and is destined to change my fate.