The Era of Social Distancing

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.

A Moment

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.

 

#formyfirstbornonturning20

 

Identity

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.

 

Unraveling

Morning dew drops hang glistening on the vine leaves. The summer sunrise sparkles in them like prismatic starlight. Skyward has grown the vine in its natural way. Clinging, climbing, and encircling the trunk and limbs of the old oak tree. It is natural for the tree to grow, to reach for the sky. The vine, too, follows its calling to ascend, chasing the sunlight on the wings of the tree. The relationship is beneficial indeed for the vine initially but will inevitably bring calamity to both as the tree is constricted, ultimately to the point of collapse.

The vines of thought and action grow similarly in our lives, and may ultimately choke both mind and body to the point of decrepitude. Unconscious behavior patterns, habits, and beliefs take hold and left unchecked can control or cripple their host. These vines of thought, conscious or not, take on a life of their own. At one point, they may have served us well, may have been too pretty to cut, glistening in the morning dew. But as they deepen their grip, they are capable of distorting or debilitating the heart and soul of a being.

Finding our concept of self in the mirror is one thing. Seeing the inner, ever creeping patterns that twist and shape within us, forming the person only we do not see, is quite another. Left untended, we like the trees in the wild woods, run the risk of becoming misshapen over time, even broken, by that which once seemed harmless and small.

Sensing imbalance, a pull to the unhealthy, chronic discomfort in mind or body are all clues to the presence of these binds within. The human body and mind ache for freedom from pain, constriction, and servitude. All vines have a beginning. They have roots. These can be found (if we dare to face the less flattering interpretation of ourselves). There, at the source, the cutting and digging up of that which does not serve us may begin. As the loss of sustenance suffuses the severed unhealthy physical and ideological tendrils, they lose their power and eventually fall away. We see freedom glistening in the summer morning dew as the binds of a lifetime begin their unraveling.

Samsara

Each day I wake and tell myself, “it’s not about winning or receiving approval; it’s about gratitude, acceptance, and love.”

Then each night, I fall asleep, wondering, “Was I good enough today?”

Lifetime to lifetime, moment to moment, ever-grinding on; the turning wheel of Samsara.

The Struggle Is Real

We all struggle at one time or another. Human beings, wealthy and impoverished alike, meet adversity on their own terms, on an ongoing basis. The first noble truth of Buddhism states that; “Life is suffering, pain, and misery.” There you have it! Ironically, upon closer inspection, the weight of the difficulty life presents often seems most evident in those who most concertedly deny its presence. Of course, we all have good days. Many of us have them in spades, but none can deny that without darkness light would have no meaning. The veil of night eventually falls on even the sunniest day.

Few things shut down a room faster than open discourse on the topic of personal struggle, pain, or misery. Its as though admission of the obvious is the ultimate taboo. “How are you?” “Oh, great! All good,” Win the day in casual banter because let’s face it, few are ready for the authenticity of reality-based ‘banter.’ The very question, “How are you?” is not an invitation; it’s a social contract. “Please don’t toxify my day with an unpleasant response,” is the unspoken subtext woven into the question itself.

My life is a party compared to those I see on the news (Disclaimer: I don’t actually watch the news), but that doesn’t mean I’m not forced to dance with demons at their behest. Not my idea of a good time, but some dances are, as it turns out, unavoidable. I don’t talk about that much when people ask how I’m doing. I share the bits they want to hear for the most part, because I understand the social contract. That said, I wonder why we, as a people, find it so disquieting to lend and shoulder to those facing times of discomfort.

Perhaps in bearing the weight of our own realities, there is little strength left to heft the burdens of others, but that’s not the point is it? Listening and empathizing does not have to become an infectious ordeal. Hearing someone, where they are, good place or bad is a gift that can be given without loss. 

Being ‘heard’ is a rarity that can change the mind of a person in need. Why are we here? A personal question with infinite, experienced-based answers to be sure. I feel we are here to make the world a better place, to address the first noble truth of Buddhism, to be the sounding board for growth, change, and healing. Next time we have the opportunity to ask how someone is doing, perhaps we could do so knowing full well from personal experience, that the struggle is real.

The New Normal

The new normal, is it on a higher plane than the old normal, a downturn for the worse, or back to square one where the usual simply dons a disguise? The new normal may be a safe place to rest after a period of shit-storm scale chaos. It may be a case of ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ as in the more things change, the more they stay the same. It may be uplifting, disappointing, or overwhelmingly…normal.

In reality, the new normal is nothing more than what is set in motion the night before as we fell asleep. Perhaps it is the same old same old that we’ve chosen to embrace in lieu of reaching for the new spectacular. Or perhaps everything is normal once we’ve been exposed to it for a while, meaning that everything is always destined to eventually be the new normal.

The word “Normal” is loved by some, despised by others. Some associate normal with the safety and security of the familiar. Others associate the word with misery along the lines of drowning in a boiling vat of boredom fueled by insipid flames of mediocrity. Both relatively ‘normal’ perspectives, I suppose. See what I did there : )

Getting a driver’s license creates a new normal. Graduation creates a new normal as does marriage, having children, and watching them move away to start their own lives. These new normal states arrive on cresting waves. They crash on the beach and take up residence in the stillness of drying sand as the high tide of life recedes. They simply are.

Whether we love or abhor the feeling of normalcy, it is somehow both disquieting and comforting to know that we are responsible for it. We create it. We have the power to embrace it. We have the ability to banish it. We can choose to take a different route home from work, get lost, start over. We can choose to accept that which we find or shake the Etch A Sketch of life. Still, no matter how far and wide, we roam the new normal awaits. Best perhaps then when taking aim on the future to sight in a ‘normal’ that somehow retains a bit of twinkle in its unblinking eye.

The Yogi

Perspective makes the view. We all see something different when we look at the moon, though we all call it the by the same name. During my junior year of high school, I was failing algebra II. I could understand three out of every five words that rolled off the thickly Greek accented tongue of Mr. Papastathis. I dropped the class in which other students were doing just fine. It was like he was speaking Greek to me, ha. I tried A2 again the next semester with a different instructor and scored an A-. I’m sure the Greek teacher was a fine mathematician. Still, his teachings blurred to the point of useless for me personally. Perspective.

Learning is a personal venture, and we all take our own pathways to knowledge and wisdom. My Algebra II experience taught me more than math. It taught me that is was okay to search until I found the right teacher for a given subject. Those who impart wisdom come in many forms: educators, family, mentors, friends, and sometimes a yogi.

It’s a true gift when a random someone changes our life for the better. Often when we least expect it, our short time here can be enhanced, brightened, and improved by hearing the right message. The practice of yoga takes multiple forms, and I’ve explored most of them with many different teachers. All have been gifted with the ability to do the poses and pass the test of instructor certification. However, it became clear over the last year that very few have the ability to make a profound, state altering difference in the lives of their students, at least this pupil.

Enter “the yogi,” or as I’ve nicknamed her, Lady Dalai Lama. Class starts with her rambling a bit about whatever is on her mind. She laughs at her own jokes. Most importantly, she never fails to bring up something that resonates with me. It could be an anecdote about suddenly realizing while walking through Target with her kids that she has allowed holiday madness to take her in a mental stranglehold. Other times it’s about meeting a vacuous someone who she’s diagnosed with a case of “There’s no there in there, you know what I mean?” Most importantly, she has distilled the practice of yoga down to its most simple and essential elements, stripped away the encyclopedia of postures, and made the practice genuinely effective. Her most repeated motto for the class is “Close your eyes, no point in comparing yourself to the person next to you, yoga is not a competition.”

The Lady Dalai Lama specializes in the art of relating the finer points of each simple posture. I’ve done some of the poses hundreds or thousands of times over the years. A few words from her sage lips and I find a completely new, deeper place in the same old pose. Tuck the tailbone to the left here; notice how this grounds both feet. Extend the ring fingers there; can you feel how that releases the shoulders. Voila, the same old pose creates an exponentially deeper result. Details, not actually the province of the devil, matter most. Her class has changed my physical being, my mental state, and my life. Seeing the depth of wisdom a gifted teacher can afford, I am unable to settle for less. As we go forth on our journey of lifetime learning, when choosing mentors or teachers, we would be wise to keep a weather eye out for the essence of the yogi.