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Mindful : October 2017
was a busy chief executive who, along with oth- ers, was discomfited when he learned he’d have to be without his phone and in silence. Walking back to his cabin, he wasn’t exactly wander- ing, but without his phone he was disoriented, and suddenly with the spare space left in his mind, he noticed a blanket of stars. Awestruck, he reported that he had not seen the stars in decades. For a moment, he became a flâneur. Following the coincidences Since becoming socialized involves fitting into all sorts of plans, routines, and sched- ules—from very early on our life is carved up into segments of progressive achievement, from kindergarten to PhD—we can become attached to the idea that life should follow a plan. But life is notoriously uncooperative. Sure, we have plans and some of them work out, but even when they do, it often doesn’t satisfy. So, it’s nice to have some time when we’re just guided by curiosity and coincidence. If I’m going someplace, I usually plan out part of the trip beforehand, but I also leave time to just see what emerges, and more often than not, interesting coincidences crop up. Once I heard a snippet of a radio program with the spoken word phenom Kate Tempest, whose work modernizes ancient myths. I’d never heard of her, and sud- denly she was appearing in New York on a day I was there. What serendipity! Her performance was unforgettable. Recently I was travelling to Washington, DC, and I knew I had an afternoon free. Coin- cidentally, not long before, I wandered into a matinee of a movie called Cézanne and I, about the famous painter who was part of a group called “the rejects,” something I’d also never heard of. These painters, Manet and Pisarro (and Cézanne himself ) among them, all went on to great fame, but all had been rejected by the Paris Salon, the group that legitimized you as a painter. Hence, “ the rejects.” It so happened that the National Gallery of Art was having an exhibition of Frédéric Bazille, a Cézanne contemporar y and someone who helped give birth to impressionism. Appreciat- ing the coincidence, I went and rediscovered the joy of this great gallery, where admission is free, and people of every different stripe from all over America and the world wander freely in an uplifting public space. I ended up there because I stumbled into a movie I’d never heard of. Hav- ing no plan can be a great plan. Through the ups and downs Wandering is not necessarily all rainbows and puppies. You can also wander in and out of difficulty. A while ago, when I was making yet another trip to Toronto, I foolishly carried too much luggage all at once up some stairs (how often have I done this to avoid making another trip? Arrrgh!) I pulled a muscle in my neck, which put me in excruciating pain, particularly at night. I asked a friend if he knew of a body worker who might be able to see me a few times in suc- cession. He hooked me up with someone in a part of town I’d never been to. I decided to make my way there by subway, streetcar, and on foot.... It became an adventure. After I’d been punctured with tiny needles and found some (albeit temporary) relief, I went wandering and bumped into the St. Lawrence Market, one of those great cavernous indoor markets with a hundred stalls. I’d been before, but had never approached it from this direction. I found a stall run by a Turkish man selling a cornucopia’s worth of dried fruits and nuts. His kindness and old-world charm overtook the space. Dried apricots never tasted so good, in spite of the pain slowly returning to my neck. When bad things happen, if you can retain your curiosity, you can take them as the next turn in the road. It’s not that you are not hurt— you’re human, your heart and your body are always poised to be broken, and pain will linger. It’s just that you don’t pile up the mental pain until it’s overflowing. You keep journeying. You are resilient. You bounce back. You find the next turn in the road. Free rocks may be found there. ● The flâneur himself, Barry Boyce, demonstrates the keys to aimless wandering in a short video at mindful.org/ aimlesswandering