A sunny Sunday afternoon in February. My mother has offered to take pixie for a couple of hours, so my husband and I go for a walk just the two of us – a rare treat. We walk along the river, until we reach the area below the cathedral, where we take an unusual turn and I find myself on a corner I have never seen. I’ve been living in this town on and off for the last 35 years. I always feel that I know it like my own closet. But apparently I can still come across places that I have never taken in before. We keep on walking and my husband shows me the little back alley that he says looks like one in Italy. He has pointed it out to me before, but I want to look again, see the world through his eyes.
Just before we left for our walk, a good friend wrote to me that she was in the process of breaking up with her partner. We are quite sensitive beings, my husband and I. Whenever news like these reach us, we are painfully aware that this could be us any day, even though the shadow of a crisis has never touched us. So as we walk together, we ruminate about the question of what keeps people together, or drives them apart, even after decades.
It is not easy being the busy working parents of a very lively (and occasionally very stubborn) two-year old. Sometimes we just function and do our chores alongside each other. Compared to the BB (before baby) era , we have little time to really connect, to sit down and talk without a time frame. So far, we have been fine. But we are also aware that not touching base with each other for an extended period of time equals thin ice for a relationship in the long run.
At the beginning of every relationship, every corner is shiny and new. We want to drink the other person in, spend every moment together and share every thought that crosses our mind. We want to get the lay of the land. All our senses are a 150% tuned in. We are so present and we don’t want to miss a thing.
Then after a while, baby or not, we feel like we have gotten our bearings and stop paying so much attention. Routine kicks in, we always pick the same streets and side roads and get comfortable with not having to worry about the unexpected. Just like our nose gets used to strong perfume, nothing can stay too intense for ever. Maybe we need that uneventful familiarity or it would be constant overwhelm. But still, we tend to get nostalgic about that initial honeymoon phase. As if we wanted it back or wanted it to last longer. In past relationships I would even label the onset of the daily rut as the time when the relationship had started going downhill.
This relationship, however, has been very different. I attribute that to the fact that I see it just as another practice, the best yoga I have ever done. An invitation to observe and reflect. Was I really going to bolt every time something lost its initial thrill? A meditation teacher once said to me: “To the awakened mind, nothing is repetitive.” If you train your senses to stay open and curious, then you notice every little shift. Since nothing in life ever stands still, there is always something to observe. It never gets boring. And if it does, well, you could explore boredom.
So you can live in the same place all your life and still find little things to marvel at. Yes, awareness does take a little more discipline. You need to make the time and the space, you need to listen and observe, you need to go on that Sunday walk. Then you will see things as if for the first time. It is a simple discipline though, kind of like brushing your teeth. If you get into the habit of doing it, then you start missing it when you have to skip it.
After the walk, after dinner, after the little one has gone to bed, we sit in the kitchen and listen to our favorite song by Lorenzo Jovanotti and get teary when I translate the meaning of the Italian lyrics. We’ve heard it a million times and still we hit repeat. This is what happens when you stay awake and present. You can listen to the same song over and over and it never gets boring. You only go deeper.