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The Zen of Gazing out a Window

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

“Your desire to be near a window is your desire to be close to life!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

One morning while talking to my mother on the phone, I said, “Mom, I can’t believe it! I’m looking out the window and there’s a turkey walking on our beach! This is so amazing!”

As soon as I said this, my Aunt Jean came to mind. Remembering a conversation we once had, I knew if she could hear me now, she’d be smiling.

Years ago, when I was in my forties, I foolishly wondered if my best years were over. During a visit with Aunt Jean, curious about what the future might bring, I asked, “So…what do you do for fun?”

My aunt, seventy some years old at the time and the age I am now, replied, “I look out the window.” I waited for her to add something more interesting, more exciting, but that was all she said. I was surprised and disappointed.

I didn’t understand or appreciate Aunt Jean’s idea of a good time until I met an unlikely mentor a few years later.

In my late fifties, a hospice volunteer, I regularly visited an elderly woman named June, who, unable to take care of herself, was living out her final days in a nursing home.

June had debilitating heart disease and suffered from dementia. Since she was limited to a wheelchair, I felt sorry for her. There wasn’t a lot she was able to do. I sometimes felt a little sorry for myself, too, since spending time with her was often frustrating and exhausting.

“Hi June. I’m Barbara. I’ve come to see you today. How are you?”

“Who are you?” she'd say.

I’d reintroduce myself and attempt to reestablish trust and rapport. Once comfortable enough to engage in conversation, she’d talk about her son and tell me how wonderful he was but, after a sentence or two, her behavior was predictable.

“Where’s my son? When is he coming to get me out of this awful place?”

Knowing she would soon forget, I’d lie and say, “I’m sure he’ll be coming to visit in a few days.”

These kind of answers usually calmed June, but having to repeat them so often wore me out.

I tried to entertain her in a variety of ways. I talked about the weather, told her stories and read to her. Most of the time, June stared into space or interrupted me and asked when she was going home.

I once tried playing the simple card game “Go Fish” with her. In retrospect, the idea was not practical since she couldn’t remember anything. She slapped cards on the table in haphazard fashion and didn’t wait to take a turn. After only a few minutes, she started asking about her son again.

Tired of being a one-woman-show, I attempted something different. “June, it’s a beautiful autumn day. Would you like to look out the window?”

“That would be nice,” she said.

I wheeled her chair, careful to not bump into any obstacles, and parked her in front of a large picture window with a courtyard view. Mixed hardwoods and pines provided a natural border to the irregular, moss-covered flagstones. Sturdy wooden feeders containing corn and birdseed stood off to one side. The leaves of the trees, a palette of warm yellows, reds, greens, and browns, glowed in the late afternoon sun.

“Aren’t the trees lovely?” I said.

She nodded, “Yes.”

A black squirrel leapt onto the feeders and a chipmunk, cheeks puffed with seeds, ran toward the trees. June surprised me with a few appreciative comments, short-lived. She grew silent again, then continued to gaze out the window for several minutes.

Detecting movement in the corner of my eye, I said, "There are three deer standing out there!” June leaned forward in her wheel chair to get a better view. The deer’s coats, like the leaves, had turned a different color. Deep brownish gray, the graceful animals were barely perceptible, blending in with bark and brush.

During that special afternoon, I never checked my watch and June never mentioned her son. We were having too much fun.

Thanks to teachers like Aunt Jean and June, I appreciate the Zen of gazing out the window more than ever.

Whether car windows, train, plane, or bus windows, house windows, any kind of window… there’s so much beauty to see: surprising wildlife sightings, changing seasons, changing weather, changing scenery, sunrises and sunsets. I’m definitely happier in a space with a window where things feel more open and lighter, as if the outdoors is inside with me.

Like Aunt Jean, I often sit or stand and look out a window. Days are especially exciting when I spot a robin or a loon returning to the Northwoods or catch a glimpse of a scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, or Baltimore oriole.

Like June, I experience delight when I see an animal, whether an ermine, a deer, a fox, a bear, a bobcat or a turkey on the beach. Even common squirrels and chipmunks, though often nuisances, entertain me with their antics.

Gazing out the window, I forget my troubles and appreciate what is right in front of me.

My best years are not over. Though some doors of youthful fun are closing, Jean and June remind me there are always windows.

What small pleasures do you better appreciate as you grow older?

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