In spring, during those fleeting moments when the sun is nearly down, I often see Venus, hanging low and bright over the mountains. The mountains are a stark silhouette against the tangerine sky; their crevices and flora, canyons and crags all swallowed up in blackness. Even the rooftops and trees are made simpler, cleaner, softer by the oncoming night. The sounds of the day subside; the coyotes’ bays are bold in the deepening quietness.
In these moments, Venus is easy to focus on. But as night falls like a discarded robe, the other stars arrive and then it’s suddenly not just Venus, but a whole sky made of stars. Of course, I have too much time to think, especially while sitting in my parents’ hot tub at this time of night. And of course I have too much to think about so along with stars and silhouettes I find another lesson in the twilight.
I imagine myself above Venus, watching the world darken. So I suppose logic would dictate I’m a satellite. But logic was never my strong suit, so in my opinion, I have wings; perhaps I’m a species of bird yet to be discovered. Sure, why not? I’m able to breathe without oxygen and possess a wingspan greater than this hot tub. The point is, from my vantage, I can see the entire scene with my super bird-vision. Venus — aka whatever problem I’ve been fixated on (selling my car, limitless dental work, getting my mountain bike fixed for less than $500, receiving my visa for Italy so I can leave on the flight I already have in about a month, etc…) — melds into something more vast. All these problems seem dimmer and less important when compared to the grander view. Like I am young, healthy, “stuck” in (again, imho) one of the most beautiful places in the US (the Utah desert) awaiting my future in Italy. Boohoo.Now these worries grow fainter still when bird-me considers that worrying is about as useful as oxygen to a super-bird-satellite hybrid. After perusing the worldwide Internets, my problems become fainter than dried bird poo on a hot rock in Utah. Whomever you consult, He, She or They have something very legitimate to impart in regards to worrying:
The Bible (from Matthew 6:26):
“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
The Torah (Proverbs 12:25):
“Anxiety in the heart of a person causes dejection,
but a good word will turn it into joy.”
My homeboy Rumi (from “A Small Green Island”):
The cow grazes till nightfall, full and fat,
but during the night she panics
and grows thin as a single hair.
What shall I eat tomorrow? There is nothing left.
By dawn the grass has grown up again, waist-high.
The cow starts eating and by dark the meadow is clipped short.
…She never thinks, This meadow has never failed
to grow back. Why should I be afraid every night
that it won’t. The cow is the bodily soul…
…White cow, don’t make yourself miserable
with what’s to come, or not to come.
And so forth. The picture is painted, yes? Worry is pointless; it’s like trying to steer a boat with a baguette. If you’re like me (the jet-powered super bird), your worries stem from something else — most likely fear. Contrary to popular belief, although I did ride across the US by my lonesome, I am not entirely fearless. And fear of change is often what I hear friends and family worry on: fear that something or someone in their lives will disappear, that the delicate balance and comfort they live in will be upended. For me, I admit it’s not fear of change (I actually relish change) but fear that the changes I want to happen simply — somehow — won’t.
So, maybe they won’t. Maybe they will. Can I do anything besides blog and observe stars in the hot tub and go on bike rides and learn how to wait as patiently as a dry riverbed in spring? Nope. So why do it?Aside from change, these days it seems many Americans are literally afraid of everything. Although, if we’re to believe Time magazine’s piece on heightened fear in America, we might have less to fear than we fear we do. The article includes many quotes by Barry Glassner, Lewis & Clark college president and author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things. Glassner points to the “proliferation of fear” that took place in the last half century, due in large part to fear-based ads, the media, politicians and technology.
“Part of what I find interesting about this is that overall most Americans live in what is arguably the safest time and place in human history ,” Glassner says, “and yet fear levels are high and there are many, many fears and scares out there.”
To illustrate this permeating culture of fear, let us indulge a 2016 survey by Chapman University in Orange, California (written up by USA today). Here are the top 10 things we Americans apparently fear the very most:
- Corruption of government officials (same top fear as 2015) — 60.6%
- Terrorist attacks — 41%
- Not having enough money for the future — 39.9%
- Being a victim of terror — 38.5%
- Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition — 38.5%
- People I love dying — 38.1%
- Economic or financial collapse — 37.5%
- Identity theft — 37.1%
- People I love becoming seriously ill — 35.9%
- The Affordable Health Care Act/”Obamacare” — 35.5%
For what it’s worth, Chapman University is affiliated with the Christian Church. The survey asked a random sample of 1,511 adults what freaked them out most and questions came from 11 different categories including crime, immigration or demographic change, man-made disasters (does Trump count? Sorry couldn’t resist) and relationships. Chapman University’s full list of everything that Americans fear is in itself quite terrifying… Also interesting to note that zombies made the list. And that 17.8 percent of these random Americans’ fear “whites no longer being the majority in the US.” Hmm.
But back to the top ten fears. Of these, how many might the average American be able to control or influence? Perhaps the corruption of government officials, since we have through our votes (hard-won for many Americans) the power to elect different officials. Not having enough money for the future might also be within our grasp. We may also through legislation sway the future of gun control and health care. But the rest? It’s up to life, the universe, the Powers That Be.The point, of course, is not to lounge about doodling and drooling while the chips of life land where they may. Rather, the goal, the aim — the gift — is to learn how to straddle the divide between doing nothing and worrying ourselves into teeny, tiny bits. To in essence live like the well-worn phrase Reinhold Niebuhr coined and ask for the ability to “accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Naturally, at least for me the super-bird, this process brings me to an inevitable point: the now. Today. This hour. This moment, where I just burned my tongue on my peppermint tea, like I usually do, because I’m too impatient to wait for it to cool properly. This second, where I am breathing and writing and drinking tea; this moment which is my life, here at my parents’ place in Utah. Getting back to this peaceful point is not a one-time affair; it takes regular practice, like anything we humans aim to master. But it has some real, poignant and lovely benefits.
Join me next time when we learn how to become (more) immersed in the moment. As an example of how to do this, we’ll use my here-and-now, currently in the enchanting southwestern Utah desert.