(156) The Way Home

I posted a few weeks ago about trying to use my photo project as a bit of a mindfulness practice, about noticing.

Mindfulness has been a really resonant concept for me lately… and I’ll extend it to the concept of bodymindfulness, which a few of my colleagues have been terming it lately.

I’ve felt like I’m inhabiting my own body with a little disjuncture lately, with the residual effects of coming hard off a mild-but-stubborn anti-depressant, with a sense of less fitness than I like to imagine so every workout is a huge chore, with the hot and cold and swamp of a Toronto high humidity heat wave. One of the ways my body feels stress is in sleep disruption, and I’ve had that more sharply than usual, with lots of anxiety dreams, characters from life turned into avatars of different kinds of fear and stress in my nightscape.

I started out this morning wading into the humid warmth to do errands before getting ready to get on a plane, and none of them flowed. Pharmacy messed up my prescription, ATM closed down just as I put my card in it, other bank didn’t know how to process a deposit for my RSP, coffee shop wifi crapped out just as I tried to get online, and my email client decided to upgrade itself so I couldn’t open anything. Getting to the point of remembering to breathe deeply was not a pretty sight, and my conversation with the pharmacist was not much of an example of compassionate interaction.

I keep thinking about noticing, and the environment we’re in, and being conscious that sometimes it’s the endless barrage of input that makes me edgy. Too many things to do, all of them complex little tasks dependent on other people, construction everywhere where one moment of disruption is one thing, but the third within a 10 minute bike ride feels insurmountable. The adding up.

I read a lot about “eco-psychology” a few years ago when I was doing my phd, a theory that basically holds that we’re so distant from the natural world that all pathologized and depressed in some way. The overarching concept makes me a twitchy because it feels a little simplistic and leaves a “now how are we supposed to reverse industrialization?” question – but I am sometimes very conscious of the need to steel myself before I enter the bigger world, prepare for the people almost hitting me with their cars, the customer service that feels endlessly unhelpful, the beeping construction vehicles. As I was trying to go to the bank this morning, the street was half closed off and there was a big sign this morning saying “pedestrians use other sidewalk,” right in front of the door of the bank. I said to the construction guy sort of jovially, “hard to use the other sidewalk when you need to go right there.” “Don’t go there now,” he said, irritably. And I needed to, so I put myself in the path of a backing up bobcat moving construction bits around.

I have been thinking about this concept of girding one’s loins, or steeling oneself, and am realizing that it often just … hardens. It makes you into an antagonist with the environment.

Which is, I think, the link to my photo project. Trying to take at least one photo a day is an act of noticing, trying to be “of” the environment differently, inhabit a different perspective. A couple of weeks ago, walking home from a meeting, I took a lot of photos, trying to notice many small things.


Fake flowers permanently woven onto a bike basket. These are all over the city, and remind me of the fabric rose I had woven around the bike that got stolen right after I moved to the distillery.

More reminders of the force that is cycling in the city, a combination of green beliefs, fierce exercisers, aggressive couriers, hipsters in their fedoras off to play frisbee in Trinity Bellwoods park, and people just trying to get from point A to point B as easily as possible.

Accessibility in Toronto is both physical and linguistic. The Chinese language ATM gives way in a few blocks to the Portugese travel agency.

The Portugese roots are still deeply embedded on Dundas, even as the hipster world swirls up around it. Portugese lady shoes….

… abutted by the kind of finely curated shop where I can’t even figure out what they sell…

… and one of my favourite tiny coffee shops, with excellent drinks, scones and muffins, comprehensive recycling, and no bathroom.

It often has excellent babies to look at, though, all named the kinds of names that are ubiquitous now but didn’t exist 3 years ago, like Xander, Asher and Sadie.

Noticing. As I take inventory of a handful of images on my way home, I realize that being “of” the landscape is possible even in the often shrill city. I don’t always have time for a leisurely stroll home with multiple moments of deep noticing, but the camera is a reminder that every interaction can be a noticing. Reframing the annoying interactions of errands that way shifts something, makes it not about me vs. the world, and more me of the world.


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