Zhang: A thoughtless mind

Dani Zhang, Columnist

I check the time: 5:13 p.m. My Zoom meeting starts at 6:00 p.m., so I have enough time for a walk. I grab a carrot from the fridge — not one of those meek tiny ones, but a tenderlong imperator — and exit my apartment before I realize I don’t have my phone with me, and return.

I know it’s ironic for someone who commits to daily meditation, reads the Dharma, and practices tai chi to be so scatter-brained, but frequently retreating into my thoughts is why I’m determined to continue practicing mindfulness. A few months ago, I had an insight: I was thoughtful, but I wasn’t mindful. When I told my friend this, she didn’t know what the difference was, so I explained to her all the reasons why to me, thoughtfulness is now inferior, perhaps even defective, when the objective is to be mindful. Mindfulness is practiced. Matured. It’s the absence of any unwanted thoughts. With mindfulness, comes total awareness of the present moment and authentic satisfaction with who we are. Just imagine — to only think thoughts you want to think! It’s utter mastery of the mind.

At the end of the ground-floor lobby is a mirror you have to walk towards before turning to exit. Has anyone ever walked out of this building without indulging their ego for a few seconds? Through the reflection, I watch myself walk and notice my left hand is tucked in my pant pocket. I like the look of that gesture. In my oversized white utility shirt and black jogger pants, I look easy-going but intellectual, casual but well-spoken as I comically chew on a bright orange carrot. A caricature.

Near my building is the waterfront. Walking in either direction would lead to a beautiful view of the water, but the left view is closer. I start out left, but then I think, Am I the kind of person who would choose the convenient route, or am I the kind that’s willing to travel just a bit further? I turn around and walk the other way. The only witness to my change of plans is a man in headphones. I feel him absentmindedly watch me. His music is loud enough to travel to me. I try to slow down my pace, but it doesn’t feel natural. I wonder why I’m walking at this pace. Should I walk faster? Would a girl eating a carrot on a Thursday afternoon be perceived differently if she walked faster or slower?

As I walk along the boardwalk, something shiny in the corner of my eye catches my attention. Out of a nearby tree, goo oozes out. A handsome dollop of golden sap rests precariously on the trunk, like a hand curling a single finger, beckoning me to come closer. Impatient drops spatter the ground, puddling around the tree.

I nearly stick out a finger to taste, but then I catch myself.

The liquid comes out of a large tear in the tree. Ripping open the bark, the tear runs down the length of the trunk, exposing the tree’s dark maroon wood. I walk around its circumference, only to find more wounds with glistening golden sap gushing out. To my dismay, the tree is ruptured all over, splinters jutting out and puncturing its own body. It seems almost eager to torment itself.

Right then and there, I know the tree to be dying. I look around, and a woman walking a chihuahua passes by. A man and a woman in pastel windbreakers intently avoid eye contact with the tree and me. Beside me, a sign: “ENJOY YOUR DAY BUT STAY APART.” Beneath it: “AVOID CROWDS. MAINTAIN 2 METRE DISTANCE (APPROX. 6 FEET).”

So many people here, and no one is coming to the rescue.

By the time I reach the waters, my carrot is just an orange disc, and I pop it into my mouth. Leaning against the railings, I close my eyes, relinquish control of the moment, and begin to meditate. Wind gently brushes my nape, whistling as it passes by. I breathe in, and I expand. A single drop of light illuminates from my chest, and the drop sprouts into a river, emanating warmth throughout my body. Water curls against the shore like a metronome syncing the environment and the elements together. I breathe out, and I melt, feeling the light radiate onto the waters, then rushing down the boardwalk, reaching the man in the headphones and lighting up each building in its path. Even my own, even the mirror in the lobby. The light grows and grows, branching out into streams and canals that envelop Vancouver, then North America, and finally, the entire world.

Opening my eyes once again, I look out at the view of the water, astonished by the muddiness of the view. Recently, the clouds have launched a coup against the sky, laying heavy and thick over the ether, and today, it seems they have pounced onto the land. Rarely is the mind pure of thought. A cast of greyness subsumes the Northern mountains, molding them into the dense air and draining them of color, and I return home surrounded still in clouds.

Dani Zhang is a School of Communication Sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.