Yesterday the wind was howling here in southern Arizona. Normally when winds are blustery and wild I feel restless, out of sorts, or downright cranky. The wind whips my hair into my eyes or tosses dust into my eyes, making it especially difficult to see when already I only have one good eye to work with. It makes things clank and slam and whistle, distracting me from whatever it is I’m trying to concentrate on. I wonder if that particular noise indicates a problem that I’ll have to fix or just a natural movement of a roof vent. Is that sound a branch blown against the door, or a piece of the neighbor’s trash dump of a yard catching and whipping fiercely in a tree, or has the tarp covering one of my construction projects finally shredded.
Yesterday I found myself indifferent to the anxiety that wind can produce. When it blew hair in my eyes, I pulled up the hood of my sweatshirt to corral that hair. When I heard strange noises, I sat still and listened to the quality of the sound instead of wondering what that sound might indicate.
On my fourth night in Iraq, our base got mortared. The first one landed close enough to shake the ground and rattle my trailer. Although I instinctively rolled off the bed into a crouch, my first reaction wasn’t panic or fear. While my body reacted instinctively by ducking, as it would to any loud noise, my mind froze instead on the incredible quality of sound the mortar had made when it detonated. I can’t describe the beauty contained in that sound. It had a crack and a crump and a thunder and a rumble and a whistle and more. For three or four seconds I was frozen, immobilized by the beauty of that symphony of sound.
I realize that this isn’t necessarily a normal reaction to incoming. A friend who has spent years in war zones suggested that a description of this moment is incomplete without describing the pure fear experienced when a rocket or mortar explodes. But I didn’t experience that. My perceptions weren’t anchored in fear.
Perceiving the explosion in the way that I did sealed the moment in my mind in a different way than worry or fear or panic would have. I sometimes wonder whether it made an unusual track in my brain’s chemistry that future reactions to incoming would travel. Because from that moment on I was not afraid of rockets or mortars. Intellectually I knew what they could do, and later I came to vividly know the horrible damage they could inflict on a human body, yet the sound of incoming always dominated my attention before any other thoughts intruded. I still miss that beautiful sound, like a lost song almost remembered.
Yesterday I found a way to apply attention to wind in a way that approached the interest I had found instinctively in the sound of incoming mortars and rockets. Instead of attaching all sorts of worries and fears to the wind, I just noticed the quality of its effects. Once I let go of fear, I could enjoy the graceful dancing movement of the branches on a young desert ash tree. I could hear the musical notes in a rattling roof vent as if it were intentional timpani.
We rarely think about air beyond our own uses for it (breath), and how it affects our environment (the weather). What if air has its own consciousness? I suspect that it has, and that we can touch it or hear it if we pay attention. What if wind enjoys dancing across the face of the earth, brushing through vegetation, swinging over hills and racing down valleys? I imagine the wind communicating with each tree, singing songs with each object it touches. I imagine it loving to set the trees dancing, the dirt whirling into the air. What if by expressing its own joy of movement, wind is playing with everything it touches, passing around the pure fun of existence, movement and creation? Setting everything in motion, it gets everyone dancing together.
So many of the things that I fear or worry over are transformed simply by paying attention to them in a new way. It only takes a moment to shift perception. It only takes a few seconds of listening to what’s underneath the noise of the mind, if we can remember to pause once in awhile to do that.
As I sat on a chair on the front patio, a small piece trash from the litterbox that is my neighbor’s yard blew past. Hopping and rolling, it hurried up the hill like a small animal traveling.