Mind the Thorns

May 4, 2020

I’m reading a book on mindfulness. It contains an analogy of a narrow trail through the forest  overgrown by a thorn bush.  Mindfulness is being careful to avoid the thorns as you make your way down the trail.  Repeated mindfulness can be like trimming the brambles but new thorns will grow. Mindfulness is constant attention. 

When I was small, I spent a great deal of time crawling beneath thorns – far more than most would imagine. Under the blistering sun of the prairie, wild roses grew everywhere grazing animals couldn’t nip tender shoots. At the fenced edges of pastures, the briar grew tall and hollow underneath, leaving nearly enough space for a child to stand. They were secret passages allowing me to slip across burning pastures and between herds of protective cattle grazing with their calves. Sheltering too from sun, wind and snow. In a lightning storm, I preferred them to the scarce and lonely scrub trees in open pasture. These were the hallways of jackrabbits, quail, and all manner of small things. I rarely cut branches. It was easier to train them away, twine them such their hooks held them. They became arches in our tiny halls.

Dry creek beds and cattle paths cut a network of paths across grids of pastures and roads. I waded creeks and flooded fields, snuck across beaver dams, and slid down muddy otter trails. I recognized many individual animals whose paths crossed mine.. Not by name or even face always, but by their territories and attitudes. They understood me in kind.

The prairie was predictable. Aggressive insects, poisonous snakes, toxic plants, all behaved in predictable ways and were easy to avoid. There were coyote, puma, abandoned dogs to be watchful for. I learned to trust the small things. Sparrows tell on all predators. I let deer and rabbits know my presence before we were close enough to startle one another. They understood I was not stalking them and I knew predators could only afford so much risk.  Distracted rabbit was a safer gamble than an unknown. Cattle, too, warned where not to tread.  The herd would not go near a snake.  Many cows I recognized by markings and hairstyles. Not every cow stood out but several I learned to recognize for their particular personalities.  There are cliques among cows. Domesticated cattle generally give a lot of leeway to bipeds.  I still had a couple of close calls with young mothers.. I kept to where I could jump into a tree or into a creek or ravine they would not. Beneath the thorns I was safe.

The analogy works well for me. I am easily distracted.

This memory is a good one I am happy to share. There was pain, too. Profound isolation, failure to meet others expectations. People were dangerous and hard to predict. I did not belong. The lonesome prairie was the only place I was home. I was truly privileged. I could wander ever farther. Out there, I was myself, safest  from the most dangerous animals. I was free. Meditation returns me to my thorns. Once more I am awake. 


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