Dealing With Anxiety: Observation, Attention, And Change

By Jeremy:

Out here there are a lot of natural changes that come to the forefront of experience that would otherwise be obscured by the distractions of a city. Especially in an environment as stark and austere as ours can be, the smallest changes present themselves without even much need for patient observation. Our landscape of endless lava rock provides a relatively inert background against which the life that has flourished here bursts and unfolds, rendering even the more mundane plants and creatures as striking as the bright red ohi’a blossoms.

Although the landscape here can feel desolate, I think it is really an advantage. In the lush rainforest of Hilo, there is plenty of natural change, but there, like in the city, there is so much of it that it lacks the intimacy of  the change in Ka’u. It is a grand and beautiful symphony, but out here the changes show themselves like careful and subtle brush strokes in a sumi-e painting.

The two things I have been paying attention to most lately are the passionfruit vines near our yurt, and our compost. I discovered the passionfruit (or lilikoi in Hawaiian) a week or two ago, and I have checked it almost every day since. There is always a pretty equally spread out selection of fruits from just barely forming to already yellow-ripe and fallen on the ground. At any given time there are usually about two or three ripe fruits.

The fruits ripen from green to yellow, so it is pretty easy to tell just by looking at them which ones are ready. You can pick the fruits when they are not all the way ripened, and after a few days they will be ready, but you have to be careful not to pick them too early or they won’t ripen at all. Through my observation and attention to fruits I have picked already I am getting a better and better idea of when it is best to pick them. And now I have been paying attention to specific fruits so I can tell just how long it takes for a fruit to grow and ripen.

Our compost was empty when we got here, so we started it anew, and it is now beginning to truly flourish. The first bugs to come were fruit flies, then regular flies. As our compost started piling up, I started to notice more: ants, cockroaches, all sorts of different winged insects, even a rough shaped brownish-black lizard. But about a week ago the maggots came, all of a sudden. I went over to empty our compost and noticed that the top layer of food was writhing, producing a primordial sound of bubbling muck. I looked closer and saw that there were hundreds of maggots working their way through our compost.

I did some research about them online and found out that they can consume composted food at an astonishing rate. And sure enough the next day there was a visible chunk of our compost that seemed to have disappeared, transformed by the digestive power of hundreds of maggots. Now I watch with delight the progress that they make daily on our food scraps. I strategically spread out the new compost to encourage them to spread all through out the box. I leave particularly solid pieces of food in prominent display so I can get a really good look at the effect of the maggots (if they haven’t consumed whatever I left before I look again).

Those are just two examples but there are so many others. The waves that insects and animals come out in is another. Right now the sun is about an hour from setting and the mosquitos, like clockwork, are swarming. Where there were none half an hour ago, there are now five around my feet alone. And the birds are just finishing up their last volley of songs for the night, bookending their welcoming cries to the sun in the morning. And it works on a grander scale too.

One of our neighbors was telling us that about every three or four years, the area is inundated with mice. He said once he caught forty mice in one night during the height of it. And the mosquitos also have their larger-scale rhythm. Sometimes there will be none for a few months, other times they will be everywhere. Apparently August to October is the most intense season. Hopefully another change will have advanced further by then: our immunity to mosquito bites, which has already gone from frantic itching to intermittent and mindless swatting.

Among all this change, so evident, I am faced with my own changing nature. This area is expansive: the skies that stretch from volcanic slopes into ocean, the vistas of endless fractal piles of lava rock in every direction. The mind has all of this space to expand into, and merge with. But consequently, with this expansion comes an expansion of everything in the mind, good and bad. There is nowhere to hide from yourself here. But there is more resolution than anxiety in this confrontation.

Just as with my checking of the compost and lilikoi, it is not out of an anxious need to know what they are doing, but out of a caring thoughtfulness. And so with my mind, and all its contents, I am not confronting it suspiciously or anxiously, despite the occasional discomfort it causes me. I am watching it and interrogating it out of a spirit of compassion. And in that way I hope to let my mind ripen into something just as wonderful as a plump, yellow lilikoi.

Please share your thoughts, all are welcome and will receive a thoughtful response.

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