I sit down to meditate. I watch my attention skip like a stone flung across the turbulent waters of my mind. Sometimes, that is an entertaining show, and sometimes it is not. But, if I am patient enough to keep watching that stone of attention as it hops and jumps around, it settles down and sinks beneath the chaos on the surface of my mind and into the depths of stillness and peace that lies within each one of us.
Last year, a friend and I did a run through the swamps and prairies of Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand. The day turned into more of an adventure than we expected. About 10 miles into the wild, we left the path to take a “shortcut” cross-country to another trail. The next hour or more was spent pushing and pulling ourselves through dense foliage and skirting around the edges of areas of standing water of unknown depth and inhabitants. I never doubted that we would be able to find our way out, but the further we moved from an identifiable location, the more I worried that finding our way out would take a very long time. I find uncertainty to be anxiety producing, and this trait has come into play many times during my outdoor adventures.
While bicycle touring in New Zealand In 2012, I endured days of anxiety leading up to riding up Arthur’s Pass. Getting over the pass requires cycling many miles in a remote area with few services and includes lots of steep climbing. I spent a lot of time worrying that Mary and I would not be capable of making the climb and pondering whether we should skip it and take the train across the mountains. Mary was more confident in our abilities and, more importantly, secure in her faith that even if we struggled and were turned back that we would be okay.
Early in the morning, we pedaled away from the beaches of the West Coast and turned our bikes inland towards the mountains and Arthur’s Pass. At one point late that afternoon, the grade of the climb became so steep that we had to dismount and push our loaded touring bikes through a section of road with a roof that allowed a waterfall to pour over it and into a gorge. It was one of the best days of the trip. If I had not fought through my anxiety about going into the unknown that day, I would have missed out on one of the most memorable days of my life.
You can’t discover anything new without going where you haven’t been before. Sounds so obvious, but how many times do we consciously do it? Life will take you places where you have not gone whether you are ready or not, so why not practice dealing with uncertainty by intentionally placing yourself in situations where you do not know what the end result will be?
Stepping into uncertainty does not need to involve crisscrossing a swamp or bicycling across a mountain range in a foreign country. It could involve learning something new or calling a friend you have not spoken to in years. Maybe it’s deciding to approach a situation you face every day in a new way.
There is a saying we use at Outward Bound that comes up at the end of almost every course:
A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.1
I find that this rings true. We are all ships and we have a choice. We can choose to stay safely at anchor in what we think is a protected cove, or we can head out to sea for places unknown. One choice provides a feeling of safety and comfort, while the other contains the possibility of growth and discovery. Which option to pick at any given time is situational. Sometimes we need to rest and recharge and sometimes we need to stretch our boundaries. Think about what you need right now. Make a choice.
- John A. Shedd, 1928 ↩
At Least The Dishes Are Clean
As I dropped her off this morning I noticed a feeling I often have during these moments while driving away from the bright glare of the hospital entranceway and back into predawn gloom. It is a feeling of panic, of being lost in the woods, and it brings to mind a question:
What do I do now?
Well, of course, I have a bazillion things I could do now. If ever in any doubt I need only check my bulging “To Do” list, filled with all sorts of unsavory tasks that I or someone else has decided that I should do. Many of them are so unpalatable that I shrink away from the thought of looking at the list. But there is so much time in front of me as I drive away from the hospital. I feel pressure to do something important so that when I return at the end of her long shift I can tell her all that I have accomplished, of the progress that I have made while she is working so hard to support our lives together.
So when I get home, I check the list. And there are so many things there that I truly do not want to do. But buried like treasure are things that I do want to do. Things that involve creating something of value for myself and others. Tasks that will further my goals and move me in a direction that I want to take my life. Tasks that need focus and dedication. Tasks that frighten me. Yes, these are the tasks I decide that I will do today.
But then I keep looking at that list, and I don’t begin to do any of the items I just told myself I wanted to do. I flip open a web browser and furtively look around. I decide I need to check my email to see if anything else needs to be added to the list, then switch back to the list to see if magically some of those things I don’t want to do might have just vanished. Discouraged that they have not, I turn back to my browser, hoping it has brought me something interesting, something to make me forget about all those things I have said that I am committed to doing. Perhaps it will bring me some new way to better organize the myriad details of my life, a way that is sure to straighten me out and get me doing the things I told myself I should be doing.
I need a break from the screen so I get up and I find things to do. I put things away. There are always things to be put away, an endless stream of things that have wandered far from their place of belonging. Someone must herd them. I am a herder. I tend to my flock.
Then there are the dirty dishes. Somehow they have learned to fornicate, and they love it, multiplying their numbers. Exponential growth is occurring. They must be cleansed, their sinful activities put to a stop. I baptize them with soap and water. Soon again, they return to their evil ways and must be cleansed again.
So tired now from the cleansing and herding, I decide I need some time to take care of me. I could go for a run, or maybe just a few minutes online….
Hours later, I emerge from an online stupor. It’s five-thirty, time to start thinking about making food for us. Off to the kitchen, where the dishes are fornicating once again. Damn them.
Seven forty-five and it’s back to the hospital to pick up her. The winter darkness enveloped the world two hours ago and the hospital entrance glares too brightly once again. As I pull up to the sliding glass doors I remember all those things that I wanted to do today, the things that would have made a difference and all I can feel is regret at what could have been. But hey, at least the dishes are clean.
Based on a journal entry from 1.9.14