You might think my title for this month’s post is a strange trio of words, and I agree, but there are threads to tie them together–observation, reflection, and trees. For childhood is where I learned many ways to express my creative soul, when I first learned to explore the idea of mindfulness by observing a single tree. As an adult, I spent a few hours in a large grove of trees, observing the heavy dark green avocados swaying in a light breeze over my head. They were beautiful ornaments hanging under a shady canopy of leaves, fully protected from the desert sun above (that eventually burned my cheeks a bright red.) Years later when I heard a song that had the words “avocado tree” included in a rough translation of the original Portugese, I was reminded of those beautiful trees and that wonderful day. I reflected on the spiritual tranquility I experienced while walking alone there, and I was inspired to write a new set of lyrics in English which also speak to the practice of mindfulness.
I grew up in a small village on Long Island called “Sea Cliff”, and for many years I was lucky enough to be friends with children’s book authors Mercer and Marianna Mayer. They moved into the house right next door to mine when I was about 4 years old. I still have the most vivid memory of the first moment I saw them as they stood in their driveway near the back steps of their house. I don’t remember if I ran up to them, or if I just marched over with a big smile on my face, but I was really excited to share with them what I thought was the most wonderful opportunity–to peek into my little plastic “collection bag” filled with slithering, bright orange, garden slugs! They laughed, we introduced ourselves, but ultimately they turned down my offer because they had to look at their new carpets. I was very confused as I watched them go up the stairs to their door. I did not understand. How could looking at carpets be better than seeing my cool orange slugs?
Mercer was primarily an illustrator in those days, and he allowed me into his art studio every once and a while. He taught me a bunch of creative things, always something cool I had never done before:
- He told me the secret of a mysterious guy named “Roy G. Biv” and then demonstrated Roy’s powers by mixing watercolors on a large sheet of paper;
- He introduced me to the wonders of “salt-dough”, which we transformed into delicate Christmas ornaments;
- He taught my brother, Chris, and I all the background vocals for In The Still of the Night (Mercer sang the lead, of course); and,
- One year, when I was around 6 years old, my school day ended earlier than usual; I think they had to do repairs. Mercer gave me and some other children from my class a crash course in mindfulness on the grassy lawn of our village library.
Mercer told us to pretend that we were from another planet – we were aliens. He pointed to a flowering tree nearby and instructed us to describe the tree to him. We were encouraged to use all of our senses. What did it look like? What did it smell like? Describe the texture. I can still see that tree in my mind. I can smell the Spring air. I can hear the sound of the birds. I remember the joy.
And now, I feel the longing for that simpler time. A time when creative ideas were shared just for the joy of sharing. Some of my happiest memories of childhood was time spent with the Mayers. Marianna also inspired me to appreciate nature, to read, to write stories, and to interpret existing stories (fairy tales and other established tales)–to explore other angles of perception when reading them. I am thankful for her empowering, lovely, creative influence, (and her delicious lentil soup served on New Year’s Eve!) I think of these times often, to remind myself of how my creative, artistic, life began.
I use the observation techniques I learned as a child all the time; I don’t consciously think about it anymore, it is a reflex to consider all the senses when I am reflecting on something. However, I never took a formal course in mindfulness until recently when an internet acquaintance introduced me to the Facebook group of Steven Webb (The Peace of Mind Coach). I found out Steven was offering a free book called The Five Secret Practices You Need for Peace of Mind and I started reading it (in conjunction with an online course he also had on sale.) I thought these practices would help motivate me to rededicate myself to creative projects I have let lag, but there has been a happy side-effect as Steven’s coaching has also been helping me to let go of many every-day stresses swirling around me.
I feel more “in the moment” now than I have ever been. I am more confident that I can maintain my inner balance even when my “outer balance” is still messed up. (I am still healing an ankle fracture from June. I am still a bit “wobbly”.) Steven’s “Peace of Mind” Facebook live feeds and videos have been a constant solace during my recuperation. So, in addition to taking external baby steps on my healing ankle, I feel like I am taking internal baby steps on the “mindfulness path”. I am thankful to Steven for that introductory book which has inspired me to learn more mindfulness practices and to incorporate mindfulness into my daily life.
On YouTube you can listen to the melody and the words “avocado tree” that inspired these lyrics based on my memories of that avocado grove I visited many years ago. Refazenda by Gilberto Gil
©2010 Laurie Early
There’s a grove of avocado trees
growing in a courtyard
of a mansion
that looks out upon the sea,
and when I am feeling melancholy
all I need to do is
think of them,
and I forget my misery.
There’s a gentle sort of sunlight that
cascades down from the heavens
each and every growing leaf,
and when just a little rain is needed
clouds appear like magic,
and provide each tree
a little cool relief.
A paradise I could view forever,
and I never
would grow tired of imagining.
I’m picking all of the fruit that’s ripened
and I’m listening to
each little sabiá sing
There’s a feeling of surrender to
the universe around me
as I contemplate
those avocado trees,
I focus all of my attention on
attaining the tranquility
by moments such as these.
Nice and easy does it,
Nice and easy.
Light and breezy ’cause it,
makes the day flow