A friend of mine sent me a Jimmy Buffett song (“Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes”) and told me to listen to it at least six times and then tell him when I unearthed the best line. I felt like his would be “Good times and riches and son of a bitches,” (I was right) but the one I chose was “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”
So far, 2017 has been something of a curious beast. It’s kind of like what I imagine getting eaten by a shark would be like, if you couldn’t actually die. And if being sharkbait involved some sort of Groundhog Day conundrum. By that I mean by the time the shark got to your waist, you were deep in it and it hurt a lot; but by the time it got to your chest, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly though, life chucked another lemon at you, so to speak, and the process began anew. Damn sharks.
I feel like I should recap, for those of you that aren’t me and haven’t been flapping about in a Jaws-Groundhog hybrid for the last few months. So far in 2017, I returned from a life-changing bike trip in Southeast Asia (and slogged through the worst jet lag to date) and then we did indeed elect Donald J Trump after all. Tyler and I split up in Saigon, Vietnam in December — this was the real beginning of the end. We purchased a one way ticket to Colorado for me (with an eight hour layover in Hong Kong where I discovered the joys of milk tea, made with good ol’ condensed milk and black tea).
Once back on US turf, I spent the holidays with my parents, their super friendly cat Moka, their neurotic cat Kiki and way too many of my thoughts in St. George, UT.
The next couple weeks I whittled away in Medford, OR with my best friend Kelly, her hilarious husband Jacob (aka Jacbo), their two golden retrievers Miles and Cannon and their cat Theo. In both locales, I ran — a lot. Those of you who know me might also know I refuse to run unless chased by an enraged Grizzly bear. But stress is a funny animal, kind of like 2017.
After returning to CO, I started a new job and my dad’s good friend Frank (who was like an uncle to my brother and I) passed. While my dad was away for the funeral, my mom got appendicitis and drove herself to the ER at 1:30 in the morning (that is one strong lady).
A couple weeks later, we discovered the appendix, since removed, was like an appendicitis-shaped suitcase full of cancer — the slow growing kind, the doctors thought; it had also moved into her colon like a really shitty neighbor. A week later, she went into surgery. She came through like a champ, minus about 10 feet of colon (colons are so five minutes ago though, according to a nurse friend of mine:) ). Several days passed where the entire family in different locales but simultaneously chewed all their nails down to the quick. Pathology results came back and (HALLELUJAH!) the cancer hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes! And with that news came the certainty, to me at least, that nothing could ever be truly wrong ever again.
A couple lovely, sunny weeks flitted by here in CO, full of fun, creativity and too much work. A couple of days ago, I discovered an older friend and Arapahoe Cafe regular is in the hospital in Colorado Springs with cancer and a failing heart. And another very good friend of mine popped into urgent care yesterday with extremely painful muscle inflammation. It’s the snowball effect, to use an appropriate term for Summit County (where, however, it apparently doesn’t snow anymore). And although the beauty and mystery of my life balances out the unpredictable chaos, it still rains when it pours. So what do you do? Go insane? Or laugh?
Throughout the roller coaster, I’ve realized there is a way things go and then there is how we can react: fight it or surrender to it. I’m realizing every day the latter — while trickier to master than a drunk leprechaun on St. Patty’s — is key. Of course, surrender is best nourished by spending time with wonderful humans, drinking a little too much wine, being creative, romping about on the old, crusty snow and of course, laughing!
While at my parents’ sagebrush-infested casa in December, I re-discovered one of my favorite books: “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff. Mr. Hoff does a better job of explaining what I’m talking about in regards to not fighting the way things go. He’s knee-deep here in illustrating the Taoist principle of Wu Wei:
“When you work with Wu Wei, you put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. No stress, no struggle. Egotistical Desire tries to force the round peg into the square hole and the square peg into the round hole. Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don’t belong. Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit round holes, but not square holes. Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.”
Mr. Hoff goes on to say those of us in the Western world go about our days trying too hard and wearing ourselves out in order to procure a specific outcome. And we do too much at once, don’t we? I’m guilty of it, too. It’s like Mr. Hoff says “such a mind, even of high intelligence is inefficient… it drives down the street in a fast-moving car and thinks it’s at the store, going over a grocery list. Then it wonders why accidents occur.” The other day, I drove to breakfast with my friend Ashton, thinking about my friend in the hospital and if I should go skinning later; one moment I was passing the already melting lake and all of a sudden I was miles down the road passing the Goat (one Keystone’s ubiquitous dives; getting accidentally wasted aka “Goated” is a Slummit County rite of passage).
The point, I believe, is to stop fighting things or trying to make them happen; instead, let life unfold as it will. It’s not about saying f*ck it, slacking off, watching TV all day and eating pot gummies. It’s more about letting go, not labeling, not judging, not forcing. To, as author Eckhart Tolle states, “relinquish inner resistance to what is.” Sometimes, you just gotta say, “uncle!”
Ever since I set foot on the bewitching soils of Southeast Asia, I find myself drawn to a new way of looking at things — and even more so as 2017 marches on. Surrender and acceptance have been two powerful allies. Some things are easy to accept, like the fact that post-Daylight Saving the sun now slips beneath the horizon at 7:11 p.m. To paraphrase Ilana from one of my favorite shows possibly ever,”Broad City,” yas queen!
Other things are harder, but possible — like yes, Donald J Trump, the man who resembles a sun-faded road cone more than a middle-aged white man really is our president. While I do not appreciate many of his policies or his opinions that shift like tectonic plates, I accept he is our president and I wish him success, for the benefit of our country and world.
Surrendering and accepting, while difficult to practice at first in our Western world, makes so much sense; imagine walking up a river versus floating down it. In Zen, a similar practice is cultivated in order to go with and not oppose the way life flows. Shunryu Suzuk — a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the good ol’ USA — sums it up quite nicely. He speaks of zazen posture, which is one of the core foundations of Zen and essentially a meditative study of the self.
“In the zazen posture, your mind and body have great power to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable.”
Imagine being able to consciously take in a moment of bad news or good news with equal grace — what a powerful gift to oneself. I have been attempting to practice zazen meditation on a semi-regular basis, as I have also found introspection and quiet to be helpful in this hectic life. In zazen, the point is to achieve a powerful concentration called joriki. And when thoughts arise, do not fight them — acknowledge them and then return to the breath and counting (to read more about zazen and what I’m talking about here check this out).
Usually in my meditations, it goes a little something like this:
One, breath in, two, breath out, three —
Thought: Did I leave the espresso machine on?
Me: Oh hello random thought, you’re looking lovely today.
One, breath in, two, breath out —
Thought: I’m hungry.
Me: Welcome back random thought. Please exit stage right.
One, breath in, two, breath out, three, breath in, four —
Thought: What time is it? Meh.
And so on. The initial goal is to count each breath in and out up to ten. But it’s harder than the sun crust above treeline to get to ten most days. But I accept it, because that’s exactly where I am right now.