treat ’em like a dog…

happydog.5.31 (1)

 

About five years ago, I needed a dog. We’d just lost our beloved golden retriever, Abby, to cancer and I was lonely. My wife was out of town, so I stopped by the local pet rescue place to check out any puppies they might have. As karma would have it, they only had one puppy left, a seriously shy black pup who was hiding at the back of the puppy pen, trying very hard to avoid any eye contact with humans. I asked the woman at the front desk what the story was with this guy, and she said that he and two litter mates had been rescued from a “kill shelter” downstate a couple of days earlier (they’d been 12 hrs. from the gas chamber at the time.) His brother and sister had already been adopted and this little guy was left behind, mainly, she thought, because he was so shy.

 

I got down on the floor and picked him up. He wasn’t crazy about the idea and looked away from me the whole time as I tried to give him a scratch. Not exactly the golden retriever “lean”  I’d come to expect from a dog after 30 yrs. of goldens. I was bothered by this, but like I said, I needed a dog, so I told the woman at the counter that I’d take him. He wasn’t a golden, I’d never had a black dog, and I hadn’t had a male dog since high school. What could go wrong?

 

They thought he was about eight weeks old, a Labrador-border collie mix (wrong- he’s lab for sure, but also pitbull and pointer and…) Like I said, my wife was out of town, so it was just the two of us for several days. He was scared and I was sleepless, having forgotten how often a puppy needs to go “out.” Many was the time we looked at each other and asked- who’s bright idea was this?

 

I could have returned him- the rescue folks would take him back anytime up to three days post-adoption. But for some reason, I decided we’d hang on and see what we might work out. Picking up on his readiness to play and hike anytime night or day, I named him Jackson after the cartoon character from my childhood- “Action Jackson.”

 

Well, as I said, we’ve been together for over five years now. I can say without reservation that he’s the finest dog I’ve ever known. He’s smart, gentle, athletic and, in his own individual way, very affectionate. In the days, weeks and months after he came to live with us, Jack set about training us in how he wants to be loved. He still isn’t big on “cuddling,” or on direct eye contact, and please don’t reach toward his face to scratch his head. But if you’ll let him hold a ball while you’re petting him, he loves the “carwash” (scratching both sides as he slides between your legs), loves a belly rub on a sunny afternoon, and would absolutely accept an invitation onto the bed at night, though he always jumps off when its time to sleep.

 

In short, we couldn’t make him something he isn’t. He’ll never be a golden retriever. But he’s been patient with us, and over time, we’ve come to understand who he is and how to respect that. I was thinking about this history over Christmas this year as my kids, friends and family gathered in our home to celebrate the holiday. Inevitably, a human behavior laboratory like this can create frictions and irritations. No one, it seems, behaves as we’d like them to. Especially for family members and children, if they’d just listen and maybe take a hint, things would go so much better, no?    No

 

Why can’t I treat my sons, for example, as I’ve come to treat Jack? Why can’t I tune into how they want to be loved and do my best to give them that? Why, in other words, can’t I just treat my kids as well as my dog? I remember stories of students meeting with the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala. They say that CTR always spoke directly the basic goodness in everyone, not to their superficial neuroses. Maybe this “like a dog” thing is similar. My projections for Jack didn’t fit, and he shook them off, well, like a dog shakes off water. So I dropped the projection and began to see the real black dog in front of me. Suffering was reduced; love grew.

 

So that’s my New Year’s resolution – I’m going to try to treat everyone close to me like a dog. Try genuinely to see them as they are in themselves. Try to slap down my projections for them when they arise. Let them show me how they want to be loved, and try my best to give them that. My wife is always telling me that I give Jack too many treats — I tell her that one day, Jack is going to die (as dogs do,) and when that happens, she’s going to wish she’d given him more treats. So that’s on the New Years list too- more treats, fewer “corrections.”

 

We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I have a dog. A beautiful one who I love to distraction, and for that I’m profoundly grateful. By the way, Jack and I have talked at some length about this business of dogs dying. He’s promised me that he’ll never die, that he’ll stay with me forever.

 

I plan to hold him to that.

IMG_0027

 

© 2018 jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com/jfinkimages.com

Why do you do that?

plenty of fish

 

For the last couple of years, I’ve written here on Oldbones and posted photos on a couple of other sites. These all began as a bit of a dare, a challenge to myself to show more and to protect less. And while the response from those who’ve generously taken the time to read, view and comment has been encouraging, maybe the most frequent question I get is “why don’t you promote yourself more, get your stuff out there…”

Why indeed. Why not inflate the social media balloon, get the “like” machine going, chase a “following?” Well, maybe it’s because my stuff isn’t as good as the work from others with 10,000 followers. Not really mine to say.

But more to the point, maybe that’s not why I make images and write.

The other day I had a conversation about this with a friend of mine, Buddhist teacher and author Ken McLeod (unfetteredmind.org) Ken has written a lot on his unfettered mind blog and elsewhere about the pervasiveness of the exchange mentality of our culture.  This is the mindset where you don’t do anything without an expectation of somehow getting paid. In running a business or working by the hour, this makes all the sense in the world.  Time, after all, is money (isn’t it?) The problem arises, however, when we extend that need for payback outside the marketplace.

This comes up often around meditation and practice, where the most common question I get is “what do you get out of it?” There was a time when I might have had a pretty crisp answer to that – “I’m so much calmer/saner/centered…” But the longer I practice, the less I have to say about it.  I know that my practice gave me my heart back, a heart that I’d somehow misplaced in that same marketplace I refer to above. Not really a payment, but pretty rich nonetheless. How that happened exactly and where it goes from here, well I’m less clear about that. Nor, frankly, do I care anymore.

I shared with Ken that when I even think about “promoting” my images, my chest gets tight. While I love it when someone really connects with one of my images, I couldn’t care less about selling them (and I say this with all respect for  the professional photographers who look to feed their families by it, that’s a different situation.) But over and over again, this is the encouragement I get.

Ken cut to the heart of the matter- “that’s not why you take pictures – you do it to find a deeper connection.” And as I’ve considered it, I see that he’s right — connection to this heart, to this world, and through sharing the images, to others, in the hope that they can touch the same or a similar experience. To touch beauty. A cliche to be sure, but then when did connecting with beauty become trivial?

My friend Sally referred the other day to my “vision.” Yikes- do I even have one? Yeah, on reflection I think I do, both with respect to my photographs and my poetry. It is, as Ken says, about exploring a deeper connection. It’s not about selling or followers or likes.

In the next couple of days, I plan to relaunch my photo site. My aspiration is that you might find a measure of beauty there. The invitation will be to linger a bit and see, sort of an anti-instagram.

Oh, and nothing there is for sale…..

 

Driving this rusty vehicle of self…

What is this vehicle we call the self? Certainly, the infamous ego is a part of it, but is that all of it? What does that even mean?

From the perspective of our 21st century consumer economy, the self has become the repository for all that we try, over the course of a lifetime, to accumulate — think of the shopping cart icon on any of your favorite e-commerce sites.

There’s a famous Zen cartoon of a little man who is born into this world and proceeds to ingest the full contents of a massively rich cornucopia, to pass the residue, and then, in due course, to die, leaving behind nothing more than a sizeable pile of, well, you get it…

My friend and noted Buddhist teacher, Ken McLeod, often says that what we call the self isn’t a thing, it’s an experience (sorry Ken if I misquote a bit here – see Ken’s excellent website,  Ken Mcleod- Unfettered Mind ) Like a child’s flipbook, these experiences pass so fast that we mistake them for a continuous film, an entity with some sort of permanence.

And then of course we die.

As anyone who has ever had the duty of cleaning out the cherished possessions of a dead loved-one can attest, even the most closely held keepsakes are simple junk once we’re gone.

So, using this life, this self, as a cosmic shopping cart probably won’t work out.

But neither can we function without a self, an identity- we’re creatures of a relative world. The IRS insists that we maintain a self, and our significant others probably do as well. So how do we work with this self?

How best to drive this rusty vehicle?

One classic Buddhist image of ‘self’ is of waves in the ocean, each somehow distinct but each still entirely of the water, inseparable from it. I like to think of each of us as a local concentration of sentience, of mind, of life force. Why the universe has chosen to organize itself this way I have no idea; but I think it does — moreover, I think it’s through this manifestation that the universe expresses itself and looks to experience itself.

If I’m right about this, then our mortal selves remain essential, but in a rather different way — what if the point isn’t to see how much we can accumulate for our selves, but instead to see how much we can express of our selves?

This shift changes everything — instead of contracting and gathering, our life experience might take on the quality of a gift to be offered rather than a treasure to be hoarded.

This expression of self, of life, can take almost any form – an art, a skill, parenting, a job. The blood of the difference is in whether or not we’re subtly trying to bargain for a specific outcome from offering. Again, Ken McLeod talks often of the insidious nature of the exchange mentality, the bargain of the marketplace co-opting all of our human actions. For artists who need to sell their work to pay the rent, this is a perpetual quandary. Even in the spiritual realm, we’re so deeply conditioned to the exchange that we’re often subtly (or not so subtly) looking for a payoff. But that’s just another form of shopping, of using our precious time on this earth as some sort of coin.

 No, I’m suggesting here that the only “payoff” worth the race is the freedom to stop gathering, to stop hoarding.

 By “expressing the self fully,” I mean taking this life-stream as a gift to be given completely, as an offering of all of one’s talent

and all of one’s difficulties –

 as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, no privacy.

 Whatever our gift, we manifest it fully, without reservation,

no withholding.

 We live completely into our lives through the full offering of them

to this sacred world.

 We come to recognize our own basic goodness and that of the world

as being one in the same.

 We manifest sacredness and we offer that back to the source.

 No giver, no recipient, no gift.

 Outrageous, inscrutable

 and free.

old cars, old trucks, california

abandoned truck, sonoma california, 2014

 

 

©jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com

 

 

 

 

My Father

My father, Allen Medford Fink, died of lung cancer in 1986 at age 72. He was not an easy man. As I explained once to an adult nephew, he was our father, so we wanted to be close to him, but it could be a dangerous place to stand. He taught us to be strong. But as I grow older myself, I can see that if my brother and I are, in our own ways, more gentle, well, he must certainly have given us the seeds of this gentleness as well.

 My father was 42 years old when I was born, so he was dead by the time my sons Patrick and Nathan were born. But his presence remains. In the Buddhist cosmology, the “three times” of past, present and future and not as solid as we ordinarily take them to be. Perhaps this is how I know that if he were to meet my sons today, I am certain he would be amazed. I am certain that he would be most pleased.

My father with me, the baby, and my big brother Joe on the lawn of our small house in Detroit in 1958.

My father with me, the baby, and my big brother Joe on the lawn of our small house in Detroit in 1958.

Written April 2015 in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah —

rains

the wind

is beginning to howl

a late season snow coming in.

by morning, everything

will be blown back

into white.

 

I remember my father

staring out the kitchen window,

massive and simmering,

considering the evening sky.

 

he left the farm just before the war-

came North, but never lost the habit

of weather,

 

of watching the clouds

for signs of impending danger

of flashing from sun into thunder

with no warning.

 

we’re grateful for the snow-

it’s been dry here for too long.

 

redemption can come

through the blessings of rain

of a rain that falls hard all day

of a rain that might protect us

 

from the lightning

from rage without warning

from the flames

t

hat can race up from the valley

and sweep us all away

incinerating everything

 

 

 

©jafink/oldbones.newsnow.com

Singletrak Redux

This week I headed up a local trail here in Park City with a good friend- an hour or so of decent uphill, and I remembered this post from last summer. When I revisited it this morning, I decided to re-post it as the first of a series of “Reflections” that have been cooking for a few weeks here. “Old Bones” will always work with the interplay of image and word/ poetry and photography. But there’s more to be said, always more practice to to be done…

Singletrak- Redux

Image

The stillness of sitting meditation would seem to have little in common with the effort needed to power up steep single-track, nor for that matter with the rush of rolling downhill at speed through tall stands of aspens. But every time I head out on my dusty mountain bike, I get flashes of insight that feel like they reach straight from the cushion to the trail.   So this piece is about bikes, and it’s not. And it’s about meditation, but not so much.   In point of fact, its about mind, the one that both sits in shamatha and the one asks, “self, how did I get here,” as the trail angles steeply toward that ridge line way, way up there…

As a rider, I’m still pretty new to “real” mountain biking (i.e., in the mountains, at altitude with meaningful elevation gain and multiple miles of joyful, if sometimes difficult descents,) so it took me some time to see a basic truth—that to get the good stuff (strength, stamina, the joy of descending) I had to get over my resistance to riding up things. Without the effort, there’s no progress. Moreover, I needed to commit to climbing these hills over and over again. One big climb doesn’t make a season, or a rider.   The juice is in the consistency.   For me, climbing on a bike is a shamatha practice—get to the cushion, put in the time, develop the discipline. The masters that came before all had to do it. No shortcuts. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said (long before Nike…), “just do it.”   But climbing kinda sucks. It hurts, at least for me. So right away, I get to work with my mind in order to work with my body. This is the flip side of a long meditation retreat where I get to work with my body in order to work with my mind (because quite often there’s often bodily pain involved in long practice sessions.)   In either case, my ego comes alive and whining as, on the bike, I watch my more gifted pals leave me in the dust (I’m kinda slow…just like in meditation I suppose.) So here’s a chance to practice some serious gentleness with myself. As Popeye says, “ I yam what I yam.”

So be it. What I do have is doggedness- I can generally hang in when it starts to hurt. Recently, I’ve even been able to find a place of some peace amid of the pain. I find it helps here to try to shift to a larger perspective- to lift my gaze from the trail and check in with the incredible space I’m riding through. Just as in sitting meditation, being aware of the space seems to relieve the sense of claustrophobia, of compression that can arise in a long sitting session (or climb.)

If climbing is shamatha, then maybe descending is vipashyana. Here, it’s all about space, moving through it using more instinct and less discursive thought. Insights come often and at speed.   The first is to ride more, steer less. A mountain bike (and the mind) is designed to flow over the terrain and the rocks. If I can relax my grip, give up on over-managing the process, things seem to work out a lot more smoothly. The innate wisdom of the situation has a chance to emerge.   The second is closely related to space – raise the gaze, see down the trail. A proper view is critical. Caution (fear) can lead me to focus too much on the trail right in front of me, but it’s too late to react to anything there. The karma of the ride is going to blow me past these rocks before I could ever hope to react to them. So expand the view – the farther down the trail I focus, the smoother the ride passing under my wheels seems to flow. Again, see the space — trust the wisdom of the situation. Trust the path.   Number three is an extension of number two- ride through the changes. Tight switchback turns, abrupt changes of direction, can be sketchy. It’s ok to check some speed coming into a turn, but once its started, look through the change, not at it. View again- the larger the better. Ignore the stones under the wheels and look through and well past the turn, and allow the bike (and the mind) to pull itself through and into whatever is next.  

Finally, at some point a particular truth is likely to emerge that’s common to both biking and sitting- eventually, you’re gonna fall — beef it, dump it, wipe out. Comes with the territory. We can’t control how much a fall is going to hurt, and it will hurt. Even small falls hurt. But with luck, you get back up and carry on. For a while, you’re going to be a little shaky. You don’t want to fall again. But as long as this thought infects you, your riding sucks.   You can’t ride, or sit for that matter, if you’re trying to protect yourself all the time.   But eventually, the adrenaline fades, the discipline of your practice reasserts itself and the ride smooths out again. And then its over.   The trail ends, the bell rings.   For me, the hours immediately after a challenging ride are wonderful. My body is spent and my mind is blown open. Everything slows down and there’s all the time in the world.   Whatever thoughts were churning during the ride, or on the cushion (and as you can tell by this piece, there are often quite a few…,) pass away without a trace. The rest of life flows back in and on we go.   Until tomorrow. When it’s brand new and fresh once again. When the bike, and the cushion beckon.   The bell rings, and its time again to practice.   And to ride.

© oldbonesnewsnow.com/ J.A. Fink

singletrack mind

Image

 

The stillness of sitting meditation would seem to have little in common with the effort needed to power up steep single-track, nor for that matter with the rush of rolling downhill at speed through tall stands of aspens. But every time I head out on my dusty mountain bike, I get flashes of insight that feel like they reach straight from the cushion to the trail.

 

So this piece is about bikes, and it’s not. And it’s about meditation, but not so much.

 

In point of fact, its about mind, the one that both sits in shamatha and the one asks, “self, how did I get here,” as the trail angles steeply toward that ridgeline way, way up there…

 

As a rider, I’m still pretty new to “real” mountain biking (i.e., in the mountains, at altitude with meaningful elevation gain and multiple miles of joyful, if sometimes scary descents,) so it took me some time to see a basic truth—that to get the good stuff (strength, stamina, the joy of descending) I had to get over my resistance to riding up things. Without the effort, there’s no progress. Moreover, I needed to commit to climbing these hills over and over again. One big climb doesn’t make a season, or a rider.

 

The juice is in the consistency.

 

For me, climbing on a bike is a shamatha practice—get to the cushion, put in the time, develop the discipline. The masters that came before all had to do it. No shortcuts. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said (long before Nike…), “just do it.”

 

But climbing kinda sucks. It hurts, at least for me. So right away, I get to work with my mind in order to work with my body. This is the flip side of a long meditation retreat where I get to work with my body in order to work with my mind (because quite often there’s often bodily pain involved in long practice sessions.)

 

In either case, my ego comes alive and whining as, on the bike, I watch my more gifted pals leave me in the dust (I’m kinda slow…just like in meditation I suppose.) So here’s a chance to practice some serious gentleness with myself. As Popeye says, “ I yam what I yam.”

 

So be it. What I do have is doggedness- I can generally hang in when it starts to hurt. Recently, I’ve even been able to find a place of some peace amid of the pain. I find it helps here to try to shift to a larger perspective- to lift my gaze from the trail and check in with the incredible space I’m riding through. Just as in sitting meditation, being aware of the space seems to relieve the sense of claustrophobia, of compression that can arise in a long sitting session (or climb.)

 

If climbing is shamatha, then maybe descending is vipashyana. Here, it’s all about space, moving through it using more instinct and less discursive thought. Insights come often and at speed.

 

The first is to ride more, steer less. A mountain bike (and the mind) is designed to flow over the terrain and the rocks. If I can relax my grip, give up on over-managing the process, things seem to work out a lot more smoothly. The innate wisdom of the situation has a chance to emerge.

 

The second is closely related to space – raise the gaze, see down the trail. A proper view is critical. Caution (fear) can lead me to focus too much on the trail right in front of me, but it’s too late to react to anything there. The karma of the ride is going to blow me past these rocks before I could ever hope to react to them. So expand the view – the farther down the trail I focus, the smoother the ride passing under my wheels seems to flow. Again, see the space — trust the wisdom of the situation. Trust the path.

 

Number three is an extension of number two- ride through the changes. Tight switchback turns, abrupt changes of direction, can be scary. It’s ok to check some speed coming into a turn, but once its started, look through the change, not at it. View again- the larger the better. Ignore the stones under the wheels and look through and well past the turn, and allow the bike (and the mind) to pull itself through and into whatever is next.

 

Finally, at some point a particular truth is likely to emerge that’s common to both biking and sitting- eventually, you’re gonna fall — beef it, dump it, wipe out. Comes with the territory. We can’t control how much a fall is going to hurt, and it will hurt. Even small falls hurt. But with luck, you get back up and carry on. For a while, you’re going to be a little shaky. You don’t want to fall again. But as long as this thought infects you, your riding sucks.

 

You can’t ride, or sit for that matter, if you’re trying to protect yourself all the time.

 

But eventually, the adrenaline fades, the discipline of your practice reasserts itself and the ride smooths out again. And then its over.

 

The trail ends, the bell rings.

 

For me, the hours immediately after a challenging ride are wonderful. My body is spent and my mind is blown open. Everything slows down and there’s all the time in the world.

 

Whatever thoughts were churning during the ride, or on the cushion (and as you can tell by this piece, there are often quite a few…,) pass away without a trace. The rest of life flows back in and on we go.

 

Until tomorrow. When it’s brand new and fresh once again. When the bike, and the cushion beckon.

 

The bell rings, and its time again to practice.

 

And to ride.

 

© oldbonesnewsnow.com/ J.A. Fink

No solution. Can’t fix it.

Last week I had coffee with a friend who’s living under a cloud of uncertainty about his job; the company he works for is embroiled in complex, very public litigation with a competitor that could cause his company to go out of business or merge, with radically unpredictable consequences for him and for his co-workers. The fatigue was etched on his face—he’s worn out by worry– “I just want this to end, to go away!” he said.

No solution. Can’t fix it.

Later, I spent some time with another friend who’d recently been fired from his job, and he was manic, absolutely bewildered. He’d been taken by surprise, and to make matters worse, his old boss was seemingly out to get him, even after the fact.  Bewildered. Be-wildered. Transported back to wilderness, to deep shadows and mortal danger.

No solution. Can’t fix it.

I could go on. Another friend entering year three of cancer therapy, a relative who underwent a life saving transplant operation, only to face intrusive therapies for the rest of his life. My own battles with health and my own peculiar psychology. The list is long, all with one thing in common, whether it’s my own predicaments or those of others–

No solution. Can’t fix it.

Maybe it’s age, but it does seem like the hallway is narrowing, like fewer things are new, more things are breaking down. I can be completely empathetic for my friends in distress, but that’s not what they want, and it’s not what I want for them. They want, I want, whatever it is that has them feeling cornered to stop.

We want it fixed.

When the vice begins to tighten and fear arises, space collapses and time stretches. We feel crushed, and we’re certain it will last forever.

The Shambhala teachings point out a couple of important truths here- first, that this “crush” is an essential part of the human deal (it happens on some level pretty much all the time to each of us); and second, that there is no other place to go, no place to flee to.

The truth of our lives is that there’s no way out. Fear of death, of loss, is with us from our first in-breath. Each of us will eventually lose everything and everyone we’ve ever cherished, and our “job” is somehow to be Ok with that.

Ultimately, it’s the very inescapability of our predicament that contains its own answer. From minor irritation, to the loss of a life’s work, to the loss of a life’s love, to our own moment of death, this is the ground of being human. Like it or not, we’re staying. And yes, this can indeed suck.  Pain is real, we do age and die and encounter innumerable challenges along the way. But there’s a profound element of choice in how we react to these challenges, how much of the drama we write ourselves.

Happiness and comfort aren’t the same thing. Maybe joy can permeate pain. Perhaps great suffering and joy can (must?) co-exist.

Image

The core Shambhala teaching of Basic Goodness, that we are all basically good, sufficient unto the task, that all of this sacred world is basically good, suggests that right here, even in the midst of our worst predicaments, magic can still arise. If we can stop struggling to control the every fact of our lives, even for a moment, space and luminance can emerge.

This is the essential truth and magic of the world, that it doesn’t come out “right,” that there’s no “right,” that in fact, there’s no “out,” there’s only this; and the more we can stop fighting and begin to flow with “this,” the more our experience of the world and of our lives might be transformed.

I heard a story once- a great Tibetan teacher was asked what he thought a fully awakened being actual experiences. He said “impermanence and emptiness all the time.”

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with a 92-year old woman named Ann and fell completely in love with her. We traded life stories—hers was longer. I asked her, from her limb “at the top of the tree,” what “really matters?”  She smiled. People, she said, your people matter — other than that, more and more I think that not much else really matters.

We care for each other. Each of us is alone and we’re all in this together. We offer our hearts and our compassion, our tonglen practice, and we share in each other’s pain for as long as we’re here.

This is what matters. The rest is just story.

No solution.  Can’t fix it.

the challenge(s) of hope

Image

Abandon all hope of fruition

-Lojong slogan

    Avoid the trap of hope and fear

                                      -Shambhala Buddhist teaching

Isn’t hope a good thing? When we bump into these teachings on “hope,” we trip. It can be really confusing — aren’t we taught that we should be hopeful people?  Yes and no —  “hope” can be both expansive and, in another context, severely limiting, so working with hope can be challenging.

For starters, hope is always about our wanting to change the way things are right now. If we’re stuck in a terrible situation, hope, in the form of allowing for the possibility for change, can be quite positive. This positive, expansive manifestation of hope can be an antidote to our habitual tendency to solidify our present experience. Life sucks, so it will always suck, from now until the end of the world (which, of course, seems to be immanent.)  If we sit in this fixation, despair arises. Yet with this species of hope, we can at least allow for the possibility that our situation can change; this kind of hope is a modest step toward recognizing the impermanence of all things, including our present situation, our suffering and ourselves. It can be a door out of fixation and into the future.

But at the same time, we’re afraid of this future. We can’t control it; it may not turn out “well.” So we earnestly hope for a specific outcome – “if only I get this job (or girl, money, award, fill in the blank….) then everything will be terrific!” We’re uncomfortable with the fundamentally ungrounded (unguaranteed?) nature of the future, so we send out our emotional tractor beams and try to drag the future into a specific outcome that we, in our wisdom, deem to be acceptable. This is the “trap of hope and fear” referred to above.

With this limiting kind of hope, we essentially decide today the conditions by which we will agree to be happy tomorrow. We’re in a sort of negotiation with the universe, this swirling mass of cause and effect — “if you let me win, I’ll be ok.”  But of course, this can’t work. We’ll get what we get, so why decide in advance how we’ll feel about it?  Moreover, do we really even know what’s best for us at a given moment? It may be years before we know for sure (if ever.)

The first kind of hope derives from aversion (get me outta here!) The second kind of hope derives from grasping, or passion (I specifically want THIS.) Both derive from a reluctance to engage with the world as it is, moment-by-moment. Both emerge from trying to control our experience, rather than simply experiencing our lives.

And what huge energy we put into trying to control all of this, energy we could better use to engage with whatever emerges. And, of course, we ourselves are constantly changing, just as impermanent as the shifting world we’re trying to control (indeed, how could it be otherwise?)

So even if we could put a rope around the world, there’s nothing solid to tie it to.

Here in these mountains, we’re in the second year of drought, but it’s rained a lot in recent weeks. It’s cold this morning, but the sun has finally broken through the clouds. Spring can take its time at these altitudes, often just a brief respite between the deep snows of winter and the dry heat of this high alpine desert.

Which direction this day will tip is anybody’s guess, but for now at least, the hills are green, the flowers are ripe, and the streams are all running full.

© Old Bones, New Snow/ J.A. Fink 2013

 

Going All-In: Part III (the Two Pernicious Voices)

A while ago I talked about the thousand small decisions that make up the guts of any commitment– after the rush of initial enthusiasm, the essential drudgery of sustained action (carrying water, chopping wood.) Today I want to speak to two old friends of mine that come up once you’re committed – I call them the “Two Pernicious Voices.”

Both of these are perfectly natural “protector” voices that may serve us well in other contexts. But as often happens, they can grow to be toxic, which can be particularly difficult to see because they’re also ventriloquists, speaking to us in our own voices.

The first of these Pernicious Voices I call the “voice of no.” It always seems to be that there are far more reasons not to do something to than to do it. I’m busy, I’m tired, I hurt, or my own personal favorite, I’ll do it right after I take care of …

I once heard the adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes (yikes, what a name!) give an interview. He’d just finished running seven marathons in seven days on, I believe, seven different continents. The interviewer asked him how he kept going, and he answered that “the little voice that says ‘stop’ must be ignored.”

How about the little voice that says don’t even start?  And what a persistent little bugger he is, always reminding me that my life would be so much simpler, so much easier if I just skipped this bit. And smaller, and less interesting, and basically of less us to anyone.

But like I said, this little rodent speaks in MY voice, and he’s very much “on my side.”  So I’ve developed a small test. Which choice (in the quasi-Shakespearean “to do or not to do”) will make my world larger? If I can go with that, regardless of the nagging sound of chewing coming from behind the walls in my head, it’ll probably turn out well.

ImageThe second Pernicious Voice is “the voice of perfectionism.”  Ah, my old friend, “not good enough” sneaks out from behind the baseboard.  Like his little brother, the “voice of no” this little guy takes a perfectly useful trait (for the voice of no– look before you leap; for perfectionism– the aspiration to do one’s best) and basically sharpens the handle of the knife.  But perfectionism isn’t really about aspiration- it’s about fear; it’s about trying to get someplace other than the messiness of here, someplace where everything will be perfect and safe. Why even start- you’ll never be (fill in the blank). And if you do start, this Voice will suck all of the joy out of the process because it mutates life from a process into an imaginary and ultimately unattainable goal, it turns play into inevitable defeat.

The “voice of no” and the “voice of perfectionism”—the two Pernicious Voices — these are the voices of staying safe. They’re also the voices of boredom, of why bother. They gnaw rather than bite, but left unattended, they can undermine an otherwise good foundation. We can say no, we can yearn to be “perfect.” Or we can say yes, over and over again, to soaking ourselves in this blessed mess we call a human life, and like it or not, we’re each “all in” on that one from our very first uncertain breath.