Friday, October 5, 2007

On a Stroll

I hate strolling.

I think those of us who hate the stroll are the same ones who despise yoga, as I once did. If I couldn't sweat, elevate my heart rate or at least get some endorphins pumping, I was outta' there.

On the other hand, I love walking - fast, killing-four-birds-with-each-step walking: walking for exercise, walking the dog, walking with a friend, walking toward a goal. A woman in my book club adds the fifth element by listening to books on tape while she power walks with her dog and bike-riding first grader on her way to an important destination.

I have little patience for strollers. If pedestrians came equipped with horns, I would blast mine at the slow-moving mall strollers who block traffic. I would beep at George, who takes the stairs in our house one languid step at a time, while I hop, skip and jump two-by-two from basement to second floor. I would honk at the dawdling airline passengers who apparently have all day to get to their gates.

In spite of my strollerphobia, I opted last Sunday to take a tour of a private, one acre Japanese strolling garden in Pasadena. The garden was part of the LA Conservancy's "Cultivating LA" tour of five sites representing Southern California's Japanese-style gardening traditions. I skipped the other four gardens, but didn't want to miss the chance to peek into the only private garden on the tour. (Hey, I told you I was nosy.)

One of the unique feature of the strolling garden is that it never shows all of itself from one spot or at one time. These gardens use the Japanese landscape principle of "hide and reveal" to "enlighten and revive the spirit of the observer" by gradually exposing the garden's wonders

The design of the Japanese strolling garden forces me to do what comes unnaturally to me: slow to a stroll. At the Pasadena garden and later at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the slow pace gave me the chance to contemplate the sound of the trickling water, the feel of the wind, the shape of the lanterns, the smell of the fallen leaves and the taste of the warm Jasmine tea. I even felt a haiku coming on. And the woman photographer making a mad dash from site to site became the object of the sanctimonious disdain I usually reserve for mall strollers.

I didn't rush through the gardens or worry about what was waiting round the bend. The next vista or contemplation spot remained hidden until it was time to be revealed. Breathe in, breathe out. Hide and reveal. These are lessons I'm being forced to learn.

Now I'm trying to apply the hide and reveal garden philosophy to my own life. My natural tendency is to power walk into the back yard of life and insist upon seeing the whole garden revealed in one glance, weeds and all. But there's beauty, serenity and drama (yes, definitely drama) in strolling into a world that hides and then reveals itself when the time is right. And that's what I'm trying to appreciate while I'm waiting for the next site (i.e. test and test results) to be revealed.


Karen said...

I know what you mean. Don always strolls, while I walk purposefully. Don listens to new CDs one track at a time -- I always put a new CD on, listen to a bit from the first track and then move on to next track, etc., so that I get a quick "preview" of the whole CD. Only then do I listen to the CD start to finish.

When I was in Japan -- where so much attention is lovingly bestowed on the smallest things -- I finally understood the "Strollers Way". In the most extravagant dinners in Japan, guests receive, one at a time, small plates with beautifully presented little portions of food. Guests don't know what they will be receiving next, and they don't think about it. (Much like visitors to strolling gardens.) Instead, they savor what they have. It forces the diner to be "in the moment" and to enjoy each bite of the meal. And, since enjoyment is a form of gratitude, and gratitude is a form of love, the diner is filled not simply with food, but also with gratitude and love. And that, by itself, converts even a simple dinner into a memorable treat.

Here in the US, where "time is money" and money is god, we all too often forget to savor, feel grateful for, and love the journey. We think only of our goals, laid out one after the other forever, well past the visible horizon.

Perhaps that's why growing old seems so bleak in America: we feel that our goals should have been reached already and, to the extent that they have not, we feel that we've failed -- and, feeling that it's too late to have new goals, we feel that what's left -- the journey -- is unimportant.

As a result, we miss out on the best parts of the the most wondrous gift we will ever receive: our lives.

Your post is a terrific reminder. And I always need reminders. Because, no matter how much I promise myself that I'll slow down and enjoy the journey, I inevitably get swept up in this goal and that, and forget to look at what I'm passing by.

Thank you for another great post!

Mrs. Duck

Marco said...

thank you - that was wonderful to read - MSM

Mathews Family said...

I loved reading this today. I am with you Susan- get outta my way, strollers! Even at my wedding as I was walking down the aisle, I had to be reminded by my dad,"slow down, Em. You'll want to take in all of this." And I'm always trying to find a way to multi-task. And Mrs. Duck-I too listen to bits of each song on a new cd before going back and listening to the whole thing!

Will and I went shopping today and it seems that everyone was out for a stroll. And I was in a hurry! For what? Who knows! It seems I need to pay a visit to the Japanese strolling garden.

Thank you for the gentle reminder to "slow and stroll." Not only is your post keeping us updated on your life, it's so encouraging, too.

Love you!

frankie said...

What a beautiful experience to share. Thank you Susan. I just got back from spending a week at Mono Lake. Even though the town where I was staying is 20minutes from June Lake, Mammoth Lake, Yosemite etc. I chose to dedicate all my days to Mono Lake and contemplate it from as many angles as I could. I spent many hours sitting God-sent benches just looking at the stunning vista around me. People would just stop by, take pictures and leave. I felt like a ghost on my benches. It's almost as if people didn't even notice me. I felt I had been there for years of just sitting and watching. There is something healing about absorbing beauty one moment at a time. I miss my benches!
I wanted to share some pictures with you but I have a wrong email address for you. Will call soon. Much love,