Early this morning I went for a walk-doctor’s orders. Over the years, I had gradually and irrevocably succumbed to the wear and tear of the aging process, subject to and relentlessly humbled by the law of impermanence. Everything changes. Nothing remains the same. This morning’s walk, the second in as many weeks, was sort of special. I donned on my khaki shorts, a tee-shirt, and plugged in my Ipod, listening to a podcast that dealt with the twin and related subjects of “mindfulness and awareness.”
And so, I set off into the frazzled Lagos dawn, gingerly picking my way through the deserted side street in the half-light, determined to walk the entire one-hour duration of the podcast. Ah… the bracing early morning smell of diesel fumes belching from dozens of generators, intermingled with the occasional piquancy of overflowing rubbish from stuffed bins, and the universal smell from the sewers interlacing and stitching the entire experience into a smell that is, well, Lagos. It seemed as if the once spirited attempt at cleaning up the city might have slacked off a bit. However, with approximately 10,000 tons of rubbish generated each day, quite a bit gets left behind. I quickly made it into the main street, Awolowo rd, a major road into Ikoyi and Victoria Island (for those who know, the “tony” side of town); with the intent of doing a longish loop that would bring me home in about an hour. As I walked with sharp and nimble strides quickly passing the early morning crowds trudging drearily to work, I was simultaneously taking in sporadic details of my environment, even as I listened mindfully to an interesting discourse on mindfulness and awareness by an MIT professor who started his meditative practice in 1966. Being familiar myself with some aspects of meditation, I could relate to the cannons of what I was hearing and strangely enough relating it to my environment. Two things particularly stood out this morning one was just how much more texture and color was buried in the dusty thickets of detritus that seem to lace both sides of the streets. Driving past in the cocooned comfort of a car, you really do not get to experience the sights, sounds and ah yes, smells of Lagos. The other was the pace of a young water vendor pushing his two-wheeled cart, purposefully designed to carry 12 50-liter plastic jerry cans of water. As he effortlessly whizzed past me, adroitly pushing his cart, I thought almost audible to myself, that the cans must be empty. It had to be. However in my presumptive Zen state of awareness and mindfulness, I knew that it did not matter or rather it should not matter. Full or empty, there was no way I could keep pace with this young man marching forth forcefully trying to eke out a living in this unyielding city. I was walking because my doctor suggested that it would do my health some good. He was “working-walking” as if his life depended on it. Two walks from two different works of life. As I watched him stride off into the brightening dawn into a new day full of possibilities, I ruefully remembered the athleticism of my youth, even as I exhaled in gratitude for the privilege of experiencing yet another dawn. Even so, my creaky knees with every grateful step reminded me of the law of impermanence.