Danna Faulds, Guest Blogger
I didn’t think much about the distant rumble of thunder as I biked along a favorite unpaved rail trail. It was a hot day, and I figured that, if it rained, it would cool things down a bit. There were small, roofed picnic shelters every couple of miles where I could wait out a thunderstorm and then continue on my way, a bit mud-spattered from the puddles on the trail perhaps, but none the worse for wear. And even if I did get a little wet, my clothes would dry quickly in the sun.
A thousand times a day, my mind creates its own little world of expectations and assumptions. I imagine how things will be in the future, plan how to deal with contingencies, and try hard to be on top of things. This was one of those times.
I biked on, glad for the clouds that took the edge off the afternoon heat, unaware of the fantasy realm of presumptions I was living in. When rain began to fall, it was more like a fine mist than actual drops. It felt good on my hot skin, and I thought, Oh, this is nice! It’s even better than the clouds. I immediately revised my inner calculations, seeing myself biking through the mist for just long enough to really cool off, at which point the sun would emerge and gift me with a rainbow.
Then a few fat drops spattered on the dry ground. Hmm, I thought. That’s not what I expected! But the drops were few and far between, and my sun visor kept them from hitting my glasses, so I biked on, pedaling a little faster, sure I would reach the next shelter before I got too wet.
I continued in this fashion, fine-tuning my fantasy, until the rain grew more insistent. I was still a good distance from any shelter, and the leafy canopy above the trail was no match for the rain that was now pelting down with gusto. I don’t like this, I thought, as rain drops spotted my clothes. Resistant to getting wet, I cringed inwardly. This isn’t what I want!
I was biking as fast as I could now, trying to outrun the storm, but my efforts were futile. The sky opened, and I was quickly drenched to the skin. Still resisting, my mind skittered around, looking for a way to revise its expectations. No, no, no, no! I shouted inwardly. I don’t want to get this wet!
My shirt was plastered to my body, my shoes were filling with the water that ran down my legs, and the trail was one big puddle with occasional islands of gravel or grass. There was no way to keep the bike tires from throwing mud on my clothes. Lightning flashed, followed quickly by an earsplitting crash of thunder.
This is bad, I thought, and in that moment I caught the absurdity of my mental process. I saw that my resistance wasn’t having the slightest impact on the storm, but it was successfully keeping me from being fully present and enjoying the adventure.
At that point, I couldn’t get any wetter, so fighting reality made no sense. The instant I realized this, I relaxed. It didn’t matter if I reached the shelter―I was already soaked. My glasses were dripping, and it was hard to see clearly, so I stuck them in my pocket and biked for a time in a myopic blur of wind-driven rain.
I eventually reached the picnic shelter, stopping long enough to wipe my glasses dry with a rag from my bike bag. The next clap of thunder wasn’t so close, and the rain had slowed a bit. Raising my face to the sky, I laughed aloud and sped through the puddles, no longer caring how muddy I got, genuinely enjoying the novelty of the moment. When the wind blew my shirt against my body, I shivered. After imagining being hot all weekend, I was now dreaming about a hot shower to warm my chilled body at the end of the trail.
For some reason, the thought process I’d just gone through was very clear to me. How much simpler it would have been to recognize the out-of-control nature of life; how much more skillful to put my energy into being present with the storm instead of trying to outthink reality. When I put my expectations aside and refused to let my mind come between me and what was happening, life occurred as vivid, immediate, and magical.
Rounding a bend in the trail, I braked to an abrupt halt. The cloudburst had unleashed a torrent onto the trail ahead of me. Through a nondescript cleft of rock in a cliff that normally went unnoticed, a waterfall now thundered, fed by runoff from the mountain above. The waterfall was brown with silt, and it spread over the trail like a miniature delta. I stood rooted to the spot, transfixed by the awesome power of nature.
I like this, I thought, and had to laugh at my mind’s insistence on labeling every experience as desirable or undesirable. It was a moment when I could have fallen right back into my usual mental patterns, but I didn’t. Instead, I sloshed through the inch-deep outwash from the falls and continued on my way, mindful of the soft rain and the ever-changing array of thoughts and feelings inside me.