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Mindful : October 2017
Y ou bump into a friend on the street and you ask them what they’re up to, where they’re going, and they reply, “I don’t know. I have no idea.” Now, you are worried. Perhaps they’re lost or aimless or ill. And after all, who wants to be aimless? Every moment in life must have purpose; every step must be in a forward direc- tion, toward what we want or need or what is expected of us. But what if your friend’s aim is to be aimless, to have no set purpose or direction? If that’s the case, they’ve become a flâneur, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary (a little harshly) as “an aimless idler,” or (more appreciatively) in the Paris Review as a “stroller, a passionate wanderer.” The poet Baudelaire praised the flâneur as someone who, by strolling about amid the kaleidoscope of daily life, finds “the timeless within the transitory.” Tied to no purpose, what passes before their eyes—and enters through their other senses—can be appre- ciated on the spot for simply being there. I love to do this kind of strolling, with no aim in mind, and it never fails to yield small, and sometimes big, surprises and delights. The other day I was wandering in my neighbor- hood and I came upon a small table blocking the sidewalk. Behind the table was an equally small chair, and behind the chair was a path leading up a small hill through some bushes Barry Boyce is Editor- in-Chief of Mindful and Mindful.org. He is also author of The Mindfulness Revolution, an anthology of applied mindfulness instructions from leading teachers and experts. into someone’s backyard with children’s things strewn about. On the little table was a very ordinary rock, or maybe two. The young proprietor of this little stand was not there at the time, but next to the table was a multi- colored sign in chalk: Free Rocks. That image has stuck with me now for a while. And it never fails to make me laugh, and smile in appreciation for the child who concocted the idea. When you wander, the spring you tighten inside in order to secure your purpose and direction can unwind. And that’s why “aimless wandering” has long been a mindfulness practice. It relaxes. Yes, we generally think of mindfulness as counteract- ing our wandering mind, and it does, but it can be larger than that. It can include the practice of just noticing one thing after another as we let ourselves out to play. We don’t have to take things too seriously. We are amused. Here are five ways to aimlessly wander, to enjoy just being yourself wherever your feet, and your fertile brain, take you. In the neighborhood You don’t have to go far to wander. You can just set out from your own front door. We’ve all gone for a stroll or taken our dog for a walk. To turn it 72 mindful October 2017 insight