It’s the holiday season in Leavenworth, Washington. The Bavarian village is aglow with Christmas lights: The gazebo, covered in warm white bulbs and garland, illuminates the rosy cheeked children bundled in thick winter coats and mittens. They sled down the town square hill to plow softly into hay bales beneath towering 20-foot pines and willows draped in string lights. Here, the scenes painted on grandma’s 1940s Christmas cards come to life.
This, of course, draws international crowds not just during the holidays, but year-round.
When my father tried to entice me to his Idaho country home this week by emphasizing its distance from hordes of people, I realized that the resort town kitsch of a horse-drawn carriage and even the droves of tourists, are something that I rather enjoy. There are, after all, lessons to be found in the concentrations of folks that flock to a place saturated with sentiment.
Slow it down
I took to the streets of Leavenworth to explore and found myself invigorated by a great image that caught my eye. I darted across the icy sidewalk, phone in front of face.
I looked up just in time to realize I’d lurched in front of a tired local man who had been hurrying past a slow-moving troupe about four people wide on the already narrow sidewalk. In my dash, I’d inadvertently stopped him in his tracks. I said I was sorry with an embarrassed grin. He stood looking through me, motionless, waiting for me to move from his path.
His clear non-verbals called me out of my phone and back into reality. I could have slowed down to be present with the vision that I saw rather than seeking to capture it to share on social media or remain stored and forgotten in my phone’s memory. How lucky we are to be here, now, even if amidst droves of distracted people.
Time goes fast. We can all learn from bustling crowds in a virtual crawl past unfamiliar sights, to get out of our own hurriedness.
Find Wonder in Everything
I crossed over to the crowded square to watch “kids from one to 92” sledding down the hill. It is a gleefully chaotic scene.
Parents stand a bit too close. The occasional sled clashes into their shins, or into an unsuspecting child, brightly colored sled in tow, running to secure their space in line for another go. Adults greet the newly bruised shins with laugher and move further back seemingly impressed with nature’s ability to propel their children with such force; children rise from the ground, brush their mittens and continue toward their slippery mission as if nothing happened. They’re just searching for that next thrill.
Across the street in front of the shoppes, families pause to peer in awe at quaint and cozy window displays. Children gaze above towering adults and at the draped garland dripping in ornamentation. The whole tourist population seems to be mesmerized to the point of disorientation.
What if we all sought to try to take in the magic of even those small details most familiar to us? The Zen Buddhist principle of shoshin, or beginners mind, teaches us to look at things through the eyes of a child, as if everything is new.
We can return to our beginner’s mind when at rest in a familiar café, and appreciate the beauty of the swirl of cream in our coffee. We can relish in the small, right-now details as do crowds in an unfamiliar place. In doing so, we can remain relatively unscathed by a slip on an unexpected icy patch of life’s path.
When a crowd slows us in pursuit of our mission, we can be reminded to take the universal cue to find a little wonder in the moment.
Be Mindful of Manners
A woman stops mid curb and backs a few steps into someone to get the iPhone shot she wanted. A chain of friends forms a “Red Rover” line, leaving us to either abort our sidewalk position and bail into the busy street, or to push aggressively through their human chain. Both are common occurrences here in Leavenworth, summer or winter.
It’s the most trying of times when the crowds we run into seem to lack manners.
Yet it doesn’t take long to think of a recent instance that we broke from our own manners in a crowd. Perhaps in a squeeze where single-file could have been useful, we clung to our partner’s arm, unwilling to terminate a romantic moment. Maybe we didn’t put our luggage in front of us on the airport escalator, blocking anyone from passing by.
In encountering someone else’s poor manners in a crowd, we can be reminded to check our own—even if that simply means grinning and bearing a lack of presence in another’s obviously busy mind.
When I returned to town to snap a photo of the crowds for this piece, the sidewalks were hectic. A family of four led by a 16-month toddler moved in sloth-like fashion. I was stuck making baby steps as opposing traffic flowed steadily and comparatively rapidly on my left. While there is a time and place to allow a 16-month old to toddle at his or her own pace, this wasn’t it. My irritation mounted, then remembered: There is also a time for patience, and that time is always.
The frustrations experienced when amidst crowds are signals of a state of distraction or forward projection rather than presence in the moment. Whether strolling a busy urban street or standing in theme park lines, we can increase our presence by evaluating the source of our impatience with an everyday crowd. Using those cues, we can bring ourselves increased harmony with others and ourselves.
I slowed and relaxed my muscles. I breathed and absorbed the mountain backdrop draped in the darkening gradients of blue evening light. When the opportunity came, I smiled and cheerfully said excuse me as I squeezed past the family through a rare tight opening. I had arrived in the moment.
Though holiday crowds are waning, we can extend these three universal cues in any congested situation. In a world so hurried and distracted we often forget our manners or our cheer, there is not only room for, but an obligation to regularly re-awaken to and spread our kindness throughout the new year.