In my yoga classes this week, I offered up the intention of looking at various aspects of our lives through the lens of a “Beginner’s Mind”. This Zen Buddhist concept means shifting our attitude about familiar things: poses, hobbies, work, studies, relationships, etc. to view them from a new angle, by imagining that we are taking part in them for the very first time. The practice opens up space for different possibilities and perspectives as our habits and preconceptions are broken down.
This got me thinking about applying a beginner’s mind to the places in which we live. When I first moved to Austin, my newcomer’s senses wanted to see and do everything. And taste everything, too, since I gained about 10 pounds upon moving here. I was a constant consumer of novelty. No adventure was too time-intensive, no distance too far. Heck, I’d sometimes even drive to San Antonio if the day felt right.
Now, as much as I love Austin, my endless explorations have settled into a routine list of favorite activities, restaurants, bars, and spots to spend my time. I guard my non-working hours closely, and if I’m going to drive south of the river or get on Mopac at all ever, there better be a darn good reason. I see the hot new places and excited out-of-towners moving in every day, but I feel happier (and lazier) to exist inside my usual bubble. My 2016 To-Try list doesn’t have nearly as many items crossed off as I was planning by this time in the year.
So I was excited last week when my friend Karina invited me to visit the River Place Nature Trail, a hike that was on my list, but off the beaten-path of nearby Austin trails. The 5-6 mile hike* overlooking the West Austin hills and eventually running alongside a river, helped me feel the same zest I felt when I first moved here, like there was something magical hiding under every rock I turned.
While we accept more comfort in our cities, we give up some of the novelty and the zest for exploring. We settle into routines and responsibilities, and back out of more events if they’re further from our zone of normalcy. Our bodies and minds know this and start to become numb. We get tired more easily and aren’t as ignited by the idea of seeing something new or making a connection with a stranger. When we become experts on a subject, another person, or a city, the only way to counteract closed-mindedness or stagnation is to observe what we know from another side.
For the rest of this year, and hopefully thereafter, I’m trying to embrace the shiny, new or yet unseen parts of this city where I’ve lived for almost 4 years. I promise to say “yes” more times to something that sounds fun, before looking at Google Maps’ distance from my current location. And to my fellow Austin dwellers, I promise that whatever I find, I’ll be sure to share with you.
*The trail is out and back, so you can make it as short or as long as you’d like.