Thoughts Are Like a Leaf Blower
I was sitting in conversation with a friend on a dewy, blue-sky morning. We sat side by side, with our knees angled toward each other in red Adirondack chairs, holding steaming cups of coffee. There were flowers bursting from garden beds; a long serpentine hedge that separated us from the street down below; birds hopped busily all over the place. Our view was the evergreen trees, Lake Washington, a peak of the Cascade mountain range rising at the horizon.
Inside this beautiful universe we were lost in the flow of a conversation, one that surrounded my friend’s What-Now juncture in life.
We were in it, jamming away, exploring, creating ideas in our own imagination fortress . . . until . . . what the hell?
It came from a few houses down—not an unusual sound from a suburban neighborhood where people were obsessed with yard hygiene. But here’s what it did: it pricked me out of my flow state. One second, nothing else existed but the two of us and our creative genius and then . . . the screaming blare of the goddamn leaf blower.
Here’s what I usually do at times like this. I break down our conversational fortress by griping/apologizing:
“Goddamn leaf blower. What the hell are they doing, making a racket at a time like this? I’m so sorry. Go on…” Then we look at each other, blink and say something like: “So where were we?” Do I have to tell you that at a certain stage of life, when you lose the conversation thread, there is pretty much no going back? So in reality, the leaf blower didn’t interrupt our flow, I did.
But on this day, as the sun yolked beautifully into the day and the leaf blower pierced through all serenity, I did something different: I heard it, I noticed my thought bubble of “shit, that’s annoying,” and kept my body pointed toward my friend. I heard the noise, I didn’t like the noise; I had some thoughts about the noise, but I stayed oriented toward my friend and the topic we were making hay with, and that was that.
Thoughts are like a leaf blower.
Afterwards, I saw the leaf blower as a gift from the metaphor gods. That leaf blower was like a stand-in for my ruminating, no-feel-good personal thinking! (For all my thinking, really.)
When my thinking gets loud and disturbing, I can turn away from it—or keep from getting distracted by it, the way I did during my morning conversation. I can let thoughts idle in the background, but they don’t have to steal my attention. I don’t have to make a story around the thoughts, just like I didn’t make a story around the leaf blower. The leaf blower was just there. We didn’t have to create a selfish neighbor leaf blower-owner who had it out for anyone enjoying an existential conversation on a Friday morning.
When I have a thought like: “Who do you think you are?” or “You can’t do THAT!” or “Why can’t you do _____ the way Jane does?” or “I don’t know if I can live with a person who doesn’t wipe the salt flecks off the kitchen counter”—think of the leaf blower. The thoughts/leaf blowers are not transporting any wisdom or truth. They are just there, down the street, kicking up a noise storm, doing their job because that’s how life works. Humans, we think and think and think. Seventy-thousand thoughts a day I’ve been told.
So the next time you’re in the clench of a big-bad thought or some agitating thinking, remember the leaf blower. Despite the thoughts, you can still turn your attention onto the comforts of daily life, on the plants that pinken the patio, on the face of a loved one. There’s room for it all, the leaf blower blowing its head off down the street and the sun rising on an early Friday morning filled with nothing but promise.