Impressions made by that or those who are no longer with us claim a homestead in memory. The aroma of perfume. The furrowed shape left on a pillow. The now absent sound of laughter, breath, words, or shared silence. These empty spaces are footprints on a rain-soaked path in late spring. When the rains subside, the touch points left by those who traveled leave whispers. As summer comes on, these impressions are set in our memories by sun rays of connectedness and loss.
If one is making progress toward a given goal, no matter how slowly, self-affirmation is due in abundance. If one has a goal but is making no progress toward it, both the aim and the reasons for lack of progress are to be called into question. If one has no goals, yet lives with discontent, the reason, however elusive, is ultimately self. If one has no goals and lives in bliss, then all steps of the ladder of life lay behind them.
It’s weird that I have time to fix the kitchen sink drain, and all the other broken shit in my house.
It’s painful that I rarely see my friends, and when I do, it’s at a distance.
It’s disquieting that I’ve worked two days in the last four weeks.
It’s alarming that my bank account is in free fall.
It’s a strange gift that we must somehow learn to embrace this limbo.
It was bound to happen. History shows us that it is inevitable. Thankfully we are further along now than the poor souls who faced the Spanish Flu or the Bubonic Plague. We know what to do, what must be done. Self-imposed isolation is the selfless choice, whether we like it or not.
Social distancing is no stranger to this house. In fact, it is our de facto natural state. Anyone who follows my social feeds sees picture after picture of solitary moments captured in the wilderness. My sons occasionally join me on these ventures into humanlessness. However, left to their own devices, they tend to interact with their world virtually. This is not always my favorite, but for now, I am grateful for that proclivity.
Except for the complete lack of income that accompanies a worldwide economic shutdown, not much has changed here. Well, not much except that I am pinching pennies like a leprechaun pinching the greenless on St. Patty’s day. That and the fact that I suddenly find myself qualmless about gratefully consuming slightly expired foodstuffs. The house is cleaner than it has been in a decade. Oh, and I’m torturing Netflix incessantly with my indecisiveness about best viewing options.
Thanks to the tireless work of our healthcare, transportation, and food supply communities, most of us will survive this, bearing away little more than a story to tell our grandchildren. The silver lining will be that despite the best efforts of those who would wish us divided, we may finally come to see ourselves as part of an indivisible, global community.
Please be smart, be safe, be well. Please think of others before you act. We who carry on will have much to be thankful for, much to have learned, and much to share from our time here in the era of social distancing.
The past is just that.
The future is a mystery.
The present is you, and me and all the rest, fleeting, precious, open to being embraced.
We carry the sum of our experiences in the vessel of memory.
We imagine the future in the vessel of hope.
We honor the present by knowing it fully, in becoming the vessel itself each and every moment. We become the witness, and if so inclined, the fountainhead of gratitude for all we could easily if accidentally take for granted.
Tranquility. A state of consciousness defined not by a lack of drama but by the lack of attachment to it. We cannot control that which surrounds and infuses our living story. We can, however, decide how it affect us. In most cases, we can choose whether to allow monsters under the bed or show them the door. Also, in most cases, we are unaware that this choice is ours.
Bad things happen. Good things happen. Again and again, the wave rises and falls. We may be in the habit of riding to the crest then plummeting to the depth holding on for dear life. Or we may decide to let the wave roll through and past us. Holding and taking breaths in due time. Choosing stillness in the knowledge that all highs and lows eventually pass to leave there spent energy on the shores of our lifetimes.
Sitting quietly, hearing each inhale, each exhale, knowing them with the full focus of mind, shows chaos the door. This simple practice can calm thoughts that would otherwise grow into tsunami waves turning what could be a storm into gentle lapping of harmless water on the shore.
When a real storm comes no amount of mental stillness will quell its fury. However, presence of mind may allow for minimal damage in its wake. Equanimity is an elusive treasure. It is also oddly a choice, a fact that makes its rarity comical in a dark sort of way. In this big beautiful, terrible world of love and chaos, we decide, if so inclined to seek, find, and nurture the gift of personal tranquility.
Of the seven deadly sins, Greed is perhaps king. In the world of men and women, it may one day be recognized as the ultimate societal cancer. That day will likely come too late for some. In particular, those who’ve starved for wanting of basic sustenance, and others who’ll be caught off guard while paying the price for arrogant excess at the hand of the less fortunate. Greed is not a welcome topic of discussion at cocktail parties. It is not a friend to those with, or without. How much is enough? How long is a piece of rope?
Students of history will remember the disparity of wealth that fueled the French Revolution. “Let them eat cake,” she said, but was there indeed enough fucking cake to go around? No, and yes. Conscious, humanitarian reapportionment of recourses may have rendered the guillotine motionless. However, as a result of resource allocation imbalance, Marie Antoinette ultimately lost her cake and her head. Money must not be everything then. Greed builds a fortified castle to protect its excess, but no fortress has yet been built that cannot be overcome. So it is that in wanting more than one needs a trap is laid by the prey itself.
Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs features five levels of basic human necessities. The first level features physiological needs, such as food, water, shelter, etc. The second tier lists basic safety needs, personal security, employment, resources, health, etc. The top three levels in ascending order are love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Without the first two levels, the top three are out of reach. Society needs these two lowest levels met for the sake of stability, calm, and peace. Without a relative security and safety equilibrium, unrest and division will flourish. Common sense, no?
Greed is a difficult topic because all people view it from their unique perspectives informed by their place on the hierarchy. It is good to be paid well for work well done. It is also wise to think socially, particularly for those who stand at the top of the hierarchy. Handouts are not the answer. However, equitable distribution of wealth in the form of lower disparity in wages, benefits, and so on, would go a long way toward inching all of humanity up the ladder of basic needs. It will likely be climbed one way or another as we saw in 18th century France. Conscience and kindness can build a bridge to societal equanimity. Wall building, hoarding, and thoughtlessness form the province of Greed.
Who we are is a concept. We are an idea forged in a cauldron into which we’ve poured our experiences, our reactions to those experiences, and spiced with a pinch independent action born of will (if we are so lucky). We make rules, set boundaries, claim ideals and call the outcome “self.”
Self-definition gives us strength, purpose, and focus. It may also give us rigidity, blindspots, fear of the unknown and ultimately weakness in the face of the ever-changing landscape of life marching on around us. Taking a stand is highly regarded in our culture. Flexibility, agility, and open-mindedness make for what some may call “indecision.” However, if my many years on a surfboard is any indication, taking a firm stand while riding a wave may well lead to drowning. This is not to say that abandoning principle is the goal. Rather it is to say that allowing for principle to be fluid and open to new information creates an opportunity for growth within the realm of that we at each moment believe to be right. Being trampled by one’s own dogma is not uncommon; nor is it a glamorous way to go.
Understanding of an everchanging world requires an elasticity of one’s point of view. Static mindsets limit the opportunity for personal evolution and so endanger relevance. “Knowing who we are,” is a healthy survival tool. It both differentiates and bonds us to portions of the spectrum of the world views that confront us. That said, knowing who we are, if not a work in progress, agile and open to at least reviewing information that runs counter to our present beliefs may well catch us unaware in the grip of a storm and take us to the depths chained to the anchor of identity.
We all dig tunnels and call them lives. Our perspectives are defined by the scenes on the walls of the paths we burrow. These tunnels we dig may lead to a vein of metaphorical gold that runs deep through the terra firma of our lives. Striking such gold is a wonderful if rare outcome and cause for much gratitude. Other tunnels may lead to silver, copper, coal or stone, etc.. Each discovery a direct, if unforeseen result of the direction in which one chooses to place their effort. In misfortunate circumstances, our digging may lead to flooding or cave in, and there the story ends.
Why tunnels? Many feel trapped by life, and here the metaphor is clear. Others see double rainbows, climb the world’s tallest peaks, or hurtle themselves from aircraft at 14,000 feet. These souls feel free. Indeed, “freedom” is a familiar battle cry, and an excellent alternative to feeling trapped, but it is still freedom within a confined mental space. It is only an experience of the concept of “freedom” based on a singular perspective. It is a mindset defined by the path they’ve selected to carve a life out of this endless universe of possibility. Have you ever met someone who “knows” they are “right,” perhaps in the mirror even? Case in point.
One can be “free” anywhere; on a mountain top, in a tunnel, even in shackles if strong enough of mind. The point is not freedom from bondage; rather, it is to recognize and acknowledge the limits of the human capacity for perspective. Each person’s path is unique. Therefore, even in the presence of the most compassionate, empathic soul on earth, our stories, while perhaps listened to by many, will be experienced by us alone. Empathizing is the act of stopping for a moment as we delve, turn to the wall, and swing the pickax with the goal of opening a window to a world that has not as yet entered our passageway. It is a way of honoring the fact that our’s is but one of a countless set of perspectives to consider.
No two lives are alike. No law of balance exists between the worlds of choice and fate, good or bad fortune, or life and death. With the infinite experiences occurring simultaneously and continuously on this planet alone, it is perhaps prudent to consider this reality before we level judgment on others. We may think we know how existence works, and overlay that template onto the world around us, or we may feel lost, alone in the dark. In either case, compassion suggests remembering this simple, empathy-based truth; we all dig tunnels and call them lives.
“That which serves you now may in time become your master.”
– Note to self