Stevens Creek Reservoir, San Jose

I’m just back from a week spent with family in Northern California.  It was good to be with grandparents, to slow our pace to that of Scrabble games and scattered Legos on the carpet.  As is our custom, we went for walks every day, including a few hikes in the nearby hills.  I am always nourished by time in that place, and I usually call to mind the words of the great Zen poet Gary Snyder, who walked many a Bay Area trail.  Snyder’s poem, “For All,” was written with the Rockies in mind, but the joy it describes is akin to my own when I’m out of doors:

Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters /stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes / cold nose dripping / singing inside / creek music, heart music / smell of sun on gravel. / I pledge allegiance.

Near the end of the week, I realized that I hadn’t seen a television once.  I had also left my computer at home; my smartphone lay unchecked most of every day.  Now I’m no Luddite (Luddites don’t blog), but what struck me was how distracted my mind can become following its usual routines.  Daily I move from one device to the next, answering texts and e-mails, planning meetings and updating calendars, even sending sweet photos to friends and grandparents.  The technology connects me to others and makes my life more efficient.  But that’s not all it does.

I have felt more and more over the past few years the need to provide a balance to technology’s pace.  So I return to the quiet walk and the silent prayer, times spent allowing my mind to disconnect from the dozens of rapid-fire communiques and reconnect with the world of ordinary objects and experiences.  I center myself in the words on the page of a gospel, turning them over in my mind as one would hold a koan.  I direct my attention to the subtle change in the season, noticing each day’s slight lengthening after solstice.  I listen to the sounds of crushed leaves underfoot as I walk outside to pick up the paper, pausing to look up at the doves alighting on a bare branch.  Later in the day, I am back in the game, computing as always.  But I most often balance this with some slowness in the morning or evening (or both).

The last morning of our trip I read Pico Iyer’s beautiful Op-Ed, “The Joy of Quiet,” in the New York Times.  He wrote of the need to temporarily disconnect from certain technologies in order to reconnect with a deeper reality.  In Iyer’s words, “Nothing makes me feel better – calmer, clearer, and happier – than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music.  It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness:  it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as ‘that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.'”

This year I’m wondering about how best to strike a balance between the whirlwind world of the virtual and the quieter, contemplative, joyful world that can only be found by those who will find the time to unplug themselves.  I pledge allegiance with the poet to the smell of trees, the sound of gravel, and the feel of warm sunlight falling across the trail.

My simple question this week:  What have you found helpful in your own search for balance?  (I’ll be online just enough to read your answers.)

With aloha,