by Andrea Chilcote
I am on my way from Arizona to Toronto, sans winter coat. This is despite having purchased a new down-filled dress coat just last week while in New York, in the midst of yet another experience of being ill prepared for winter wind chills.
So the question I am asking myself is this: “Was I so present to the mild winter pre-dawn in Cave Creek that I didn’t realize I left the house in just a light business jacket (didn’t realize it until entering the airport actually), or was I consumed by a cluttered mind, flotsam and jetsam taking the space allotted for clear thinking?”
I’m going with the latter, the former being an admittedly clever rationalization. Despite a life-long commitment to staying present in the moment, I still succumb to the pull of my analytical mind, oblivious to my surroundings or the task at hand.
Some view being present as a virtue. I don’t see it that way. In my opinion, it’s just an available choice, a minute-by-minute choice as to how to walk through one’s day. It’s a way of fully engaging in life’s joyful moments as well as managing inevitable stressors. And it’s a requirement for true connection with other human beings.
The dogs teach me the lesson of presence anytime I’m awake enough to notice. Those familiar with the story of the sand dollars in our new book Erik’s Hope will recall how I learned to access my creative intuition through Erik’s gift of a day of play on a beach in South Carolina, as well as how I learned to truly treasure precious time with him when the end was near.
That lesson is ongoing. When Amigo suddenly became ill in January of this year, he required intense care. We had hope that he would recover, and of course I wanted to be with him; offering the kind of care only a mother could give. I have a vivid memory of sitting on my bathroom floor as dear Dr. Kit tended to him shortly after surgery. We began to talk of my travel schedule that week, and what I would do. I stopped mid-sentence and said: “I cannot worry about Wednesday, or even tomorrow. I can only manage right now, and now, today, I am here, available and present.” That philosophy carried me for three months as Amigo rallied and regressed until his inevitable death. People came along to help when needed and things got done, as they always do. I look back on times like this in my life (and there have been a few this year) and wonder where my stamina came from. I am certain that I channeled my energy wisely, allowing only the matter at hand to matter.
The mind is a useful yet tricky tool. Our capacity for conceptualizing, analyzing and calculating is unrivaled in the animal kingdom, and this ability easily seduces our attention away from the matter at hand. It can craft fears and contingencies, and infer meanings that do not exist. Or it can be a brilliant partner to the creative process. Working in tandem, it’s as if our heart says “Here’s what I want and need,” and our mind says, “Okay, let’s figure out how to get that for you.”
This summer, a wise friend met my new pup, Kairos. She said “Andrea, Kairos has an important purpose in your life. He is here to help you tame your ‘eagle mind,’ and remind you to lead with your heart.” One need only look into the depths of his blue eyes to understand that is true.
Yes, I am willing to allow my heart to take the lead. And perhaps I’ll remember my coat on the next trip.