Mind like water

Every morning, in place of my commute, I go for a long walk. I call it my sanity walk. My way takes me by a small lake. One day, the lake was a perfect mirror, reproducing perfect copies of trees, houses, a dock, and the cloudless sky of thousand-piece-puzzle blue. I took pictures with my phone.

I’ve been around the lake enough times to know that this beautiful stillness is very rare.

My mind, like the lake, is rarely still. Near constant wind disturbs the surface, and my anxious thoughts cloud my brain in a fog of useless, directionless energy like static. Walking allows me to disengage my mind from its thoughts.

Letting go of thoughts is something I feel physically in my head, like a fist relaxing its grip. Then I realize where I am, like a driver on a boring highway emerging from a reverie. My eyes and ears open. I notice the street ahead, and the houses. I notice the rooftops covered with white squares, each shingle outlined with a dusting of snow. I hear a distant garbage truck, starting and stopping. I hear a scratching nearby, a bird rummaging in the dead leaves under some trees. I notice the children’s playground equipment wound with yellow caution tape.

I notice a Nova Scotia flag hung from the railing of someone’s front step. Across the street, I see a length of Nova Scotia tartan hanging from the branch of a tree in a front yard. And there’s another flag, pinned to the wall of a house, encircled by a string of Christmas lights in the shape of a heart.

This is Nova Scotia, a small province where nearly everyone can trace a connection to a victim. Confined to our houses, we are denied the ability to gather as we normally would, and our sadness knows no bounds.

April in Nova Scotia can be pleasant but is just as likely to be windy, wet, and cold. We are serious about insulating our houses. Tiny leaks around windows and doors add up. Someone once told me the total area of dozens of small leaks could be the size of a basketball.

Imagine a hole that big in the wall of your house. You wouldn’t put up with that for long in a cold climate.

The wind that disturbs our minds sneaks in via many little holes: CNN, CBC, Facebook, Twitter. Words have power. A steady drumbeat of certain words – kill, gun, shooter – exhausts and confuses us.

We should feel sad. We should also stay informed. But be careful how you take in the noise of the world. It should be in ways and at times of your choosing, not via alerts and notifications and buzzes and ringtones.

The surface of the water will calm if it’s not disturbed. We can’t always keep the wind out, but we can at least stop inviting it in.

Our resilience in this moment is not a product of sudden changes in routine we adopt now, but of habits of mind we have acquired over years. But now is as good a time as any to re-examine what we let into our skulls.

From the lake, I return to my desk better able to lead and to serve. I do not have a still mind, and I never will. My brain hums with anxiety at the best of times. A calm mind is not a goal to achieve, but a lifetime habit, a gentle discipline that never ends. It enables me, us, to stand and face the wind.

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