It took four days for my brain to downshift.
It’s been so long since it happened that I didn’t recognize it at first.
On a hot morning on the New Jersey seashore, I strolled along the boardwalk, the Atlantic City skyline looming to the north.
As I walked, little things caught my attention.
The feel of the ocean breezes lifting strands of hair off my shoulders.
A man, so prototypically “Jersey Shore” with his gold rings and chains, teak-wood tan and thick accent that I nearly looked around for a film crew, berating a man named Barry on his phone.
The terns dancing in and out of the waves, looking for tasty bits in the morning tide.
An elderly couple sharing a cup of coffee in companionable silence.
A dad teaching his young son to ride a bike.
Joggers of all speeds and ages and colors and sizes.
The sun baking my face and shoulders to a degree that will probably gain me a stern talking to the next time I see an aesthetician.
All of these things were noticed and then… released.
My mind occasionally tried to make up a story about what I saw (“You should be running too, not walking.” “Is it wrong to judge those ladies talking so snidely about their daughters in law?” “I wonder why the cops are patrolling this section more.”), but I abandoned all of those stories within a few steps.
None of it was as interesting as paying attention to what happened next, even if what happened next was the cry of a seagull or the flirty smile and wave from an old man on a bench.
It was radically different from my normal way of experiencing the world. I didn’t have buds clamped in my ears. The walk wasn’t to the store or to follow a particular trail or an attempt to appease my Fitbit. I wasn’t carrying a purse or keys. I had my phone but only for taking pictures… And I mostly forgot to do that.
Now that I’m back on the other side of the country, I’m wondering if I can find this gear again. While not every day can be a vacation-on-the-beach day, I wonder how much better life could be if I could, once in a while any way, downshift my brain. If I could set aside goals and purpose and judgments and expectations and simply take in a series of moments, not trying to change them or me.
It seems like something worth striving for, even if striving won’t get me there.
All photos taken by me, with an iPhone on Ventnor Beach, NJ