I have spent last several weeks getting acquainted with an entirely new landscape. Up until now, I have only experienced life in suburban or city settings. I am currently learning the ways of the living countryside in Northeast San Diego. I have to say, it is beautiful here. I have witnessed some of the most magnificent sunsets. And the land here is buzzing with life: horses, cows, bunnies, coyotes, roosters, owls, peacocks, hawks... and many more blooming, breathing, living specimen. But, other than the various mutterings of these creatures, it has been very quiet (this is the part I’m still getting used to). That said, I know my season here will be full of lessons to learn and I am trying to examine them tenderly as they materialize. My first lesson presented itself in the form of a dead lizard on the driveway.
It's true. The poor little creature was basking in the glorious California sunshine when it was suddenly, fatally, squashed under the tire of my car.
The next night, as I was driving home, I also noticed one of our beloved wild bunnies hopping away frantically to escape my car as I was pulling into the driveway once more. In fact, I had to slam on my brakes to avoid another accident. This is when I realized that I tend to move so quickly from place to place that I never even have the time to attend to the environment around me.
This is almost the law of the “land” in big cities, of course. After years of commuting in L.A., navigating the vicious traffic of the 405 (those of you that know, know), I learned to move quickly and without hesitation, or else get stuck behind and never reach my destination. I didn’t care if I had to cut everyone else off on the road, I had to get to my lecture on time! I had students waiting for me! It was crucial, a matter of life or death (well, that's how it felt in my anxiously beating heart).
My freeway mentality illustrates the dangers of life in a "Type A city." Type A cities are fast-paced cities in which rushed behaviors (e.g., talking, walking, and working quickly) are a cultural norm. Due to the high levels of stress associated with this pace, residents of Type A cities are at a greater risk for developing heart disease . Similarly, a meta-analysis on urban living and health outcomes found that residents living in urban settings were at a greater risk for developing anxiety and depression, compared to those in rural settings . Finally, we know that even the noise levels in different environments can be linked with health outcomes. One study found that people living in more quiet settings were more likely to report better sleep, greater well-being, and less daily irritation or annoyance .
In my own experience, I find that this new landscape has also kindled a greater need for mindfulness. In the city, I was shielded from experiencing the negative consequences of my rushing, in part because of something social psychologists refer to as "deindividuation," or the loss of self-awareness that occurs in the context of large groups. Driving along a busy freeway, contained in the protective bubble of my car, it was easy to discount and malign all of the other people on the road with me because I never even had to look them in the eyes. However, arriving at this new landscape in the country, I share a much more intimate space with the other living beings all around me. This new setting has made it glaringly apparent how my actions can and do affect everything around me. Adapting to this new environment and pace of life, I am prompted to more carefully tune in to the details of what is going on moment by moment.
In this way, I am learning to relinquish my habit of rushing around and marching blindly ahead. Instead, I am learning to listen to the natural rhythmic cues provided by the environment. For example, I know when I hear the roosters, the day is about to begin, so I should savor the last few moments in bed. And when I hear the peacocks mewing at twilight, I should probably go outside and admire the sunset. I am also learning to pause and look around before taking my next steps, so I don't keep killing the tiny lizards and bunnies that are naive to my "busy" and "important" schedule. I am learning to allow nature to set the pace for a while.
It is a metaphor that translates to so much in my life right now. It’s a lesson I think I could benefit from even more when I find myself in big, bustling cities. In fact, I hope to bring it with me everywhere I go.
I hope this post serves as a reminder for you to take some time today to pause for yourself. Wherever you find yourself, I am willing to bet that you will discover more depth and richness in any given moment, if you only take the time to listen and look for it.
1. Levine, R. V., Lynch, K., Miyake, K., & Lucia, M. (1989). The Type A city: Coronary heart disease and the pace of life. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(6), 509-524.
2. Peen, J., Schoevers, R. A., Beekman, A. T., & Dekker, J. (2010). The current status of urban‐rural differences in psychiatric disorders. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 121(2), 84-93.
3. Öhrström, E., Skånberg, A., Svensson, H., & Gidlöf-Gunnarsson, A. (2006). Effects of road traffic noise and the benefit of access to quietness. Journal of Sound and Vibration, 295(1), 40-59.