zen and the art of open windows

In the artificially chilled air of my rent car, on the PA turnpike, on the way back to Baltimore from near Pittsburgh, I turned off the air-conditioner, opened the windows, and as warm air filled the car with a rush, I found myself grinning. I noticed, driving along, that I was, involuntarily, grinning.

Ah, not to be artificial.

Don’t get me wrong. In the oppressive heat of summer and the bitter chill of winter, I am one to so appreciate the artificial—to embrace the artificial. When the temperature climbs, as does the humidity, or when the temperature drops, as does the wind chill, then by all means, let’s fake it! But in the precious in-between times, it’s nice not to.

I have written before about honoring the day—about the difference between the experience of a day and experiences within a day. So the grinning may have had something to do with that—connecting to what the day presented me instead of to what I imposed on the day—connecting to the reality that does not revolve around me. For as comfortable and desired as artificial may be, it is artificial.

Part of the involuntary grinning though had to do with affirming and anticipating a connection to what I, with windows up and air on, would never have noticed—to that to which I would have remained oblivious. Not that which I might have taken for granted—not that which I might have ignored (each bad enough in its own right), but that from which I would have been completely isolated—separated—sacrificing (at some level) reality for artifice.

But with windows down, a connection was made to where I was—physically—geographically. I had a sense of being grounded—connected (however transiently) to the land I was driving through. Because … because I smelled what I would not have with the windows up. I smelled something within the particular place I was (for the moment). And, in the course of my traveling, I identified the smell of musty basement or garage (I know that’s not necessarily what I smelled, but it is how I identified the smell). I smelled warm vanilla and sweet berry popsicles, the hot smell of a truck burning oil and the sharp smell of an evergreen, the strong smell of gasoline, the smell of cut grass, of many, many cows, of skunk, the heavily cloying scent of black locust, the smell of smoke, of someone grilling on charcoal, of pavement, of mulch. Each scent a context—a story—a memory. And it could have all gone by completely unnoticed.

I’m certainly not going to give up my air-conditioning when it’s hot or my heat when it’s cold. But I do need to give some more thought to extending the in-between—give more thought to the discipline of knowing what’s real amidst the artificial. A good discipline, don’t you think? In the car or outside it.

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