The Mindfulness of Squirrels

Today, after I finished eating a quick lunch, I decided I would spend the remaining part of my lunch hour outdoors, on a bench, reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It\’s a nice change of pace to leave my office and actually remember that there is life and beauty outside to be cherished and lived. I walked a ways, hoping to find a spot that was cozy enough and \”pretty enough\” that wasn\’t too far, as I didn\’t have a whole lot of time. I made it across the street to the health clinic building before I gave up on something \”beautiful\”. The bench next to the building, sitting starkly on the pavement, unobscured by shade of any type, next to the building would have to do. I sat, opened my book and began reading. I don\’t even think I made it a full page before I noticed the squirrels and became at first distracted and then wholly attentive on them.

There\’s a gutter near the bench where I was sitting and next to it was what looked like a pile of dry dog and cat food. It wasn\’t in a bowl or anything, just strewn out over the concrete as if someone in the building was trying to help out a stray cat who might be wandering along looking for nourishment.

The squirrels found it. When I arrived, there was one squirrel on top of the sewer, looking down at the food. I\’m not sure if he was unsure about the food or had finished eating, but he didn\’t seem too terribly interested in going towards it. Another squirrel approaches, which causes the first squirrel (and then the second, in turn) to panic and run away from each other in the stereotypical fast way that squirrels react to anything surprising. This proved to be too much for the squirrel on top of the gutter, who scampered off into the grass, far away from me and the other squirrel.

I was far enough away and unmoving enough to pose no threat to the new squirrel and his conquest for the food. He approached the kibble took a small portion in his mouth and ate, with his back turned away from his food source. When he was finished with that bit, he retrieved more and started the process over again. He did this for several long minutes and I watched him intently. I could see now that he was a male and it looked like he had some scars on the side of his fur. He didn\’t look desperate for food, but definitely wanted to eat and seemed completely oblivious to the sounds of the cars and sirens that make up the cacophony of city existence. When he was done eating, he went on top of the sewer and began drinking from a small pool of water that had formed there, probably dew to yesterday\’s rain. When his thirst was quenched he scampered off into a flower bed and began digging furiously as if he was trying to locate a hidden treasure.

I sat there and watched him for almost a full, uninterrupted 10 minutes, quietly and unobtrusively. My book was long forgotten. I watched how he ate, how he drank, how he walked, how he dug. For a moment, I felt connected to him. He was showing me how he lived, giving me a glimpse into the world of squirrels. I thought about how he never really stopped to look at anything. Sure, when he heard something that startled him, he looked around and once determined it was of no threat to him continued on his activities. He didn\’t stop to observe anything. He didn\’t look at the kibble or savor in its flavor. In all practical purposes he wasn\’t what they call \”mindful\”. It\’s not in his nature, I assume, to stop and contemplate. His job is to simply be a squirrel and at that, he was doing marvelously well.

But that brings me back to me. I was observing. I was watching. I was trying to be \”mindful\” and truly present to the moment. Unlike the squirrel who has grown accustomed to the noise of the city he calls home, I haven\’t been able to be nearly as effective at tuning out all the noise and the distraction. My mind often races a mile a minute, always on the next thing, always on the future. I find it almost impossible to even be aware that a present exists, even though it is where I always am. While the squirrel may have not been \”mindful\”, he certainly seemed present in the moment.

Also, if the squirrel showed me a bit of his life, he also showed me a glimpse of my own. Humans observe, watch and learn. My family (or the fambly as we so lovingly refer ourselves as…my parents, my brothers and sister¬†+ spouses, etc.) plays a game with my nephew (who is almost a year old). As we are sitting at the dinner table we will all raise our hands above our heads. We have no real purpose to this other than to see if my baby nephew will watch us and imitate our silly activity. We do this a lot. We probably do this to an absurd degree. It looks ridiculous with a table of grown adults with both hands raised above their heads for seemingly no reason. At first, he didn\’t understand, but as we repeated, he caught on and started putting his hands above his head as well. Now, the second he sees an adult with their hands above their heads, he immediately does the same. Humans observe. Humans imitate. Humans learn.

As adults, maybe we don\’t need to observe other humans to gain insight and perspective. Maybe we can imitate the energy and present-ness of other creatures. Maybe we can learn to be connected not only with the world around us, but with the essence and divinity within us that can only be experienced when we settle our minds and observe the world that was created in the most lovely of images.

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