I allowed myself to and inclined towards seeing what was before me. Several times I stopped and simply looked all around. The swirling high clouds in the rich blue sky. The deep natural carvings in the mountains. The reddish earthen path. New houses being built. A white dog with short bristly fur and a brown patch mark over one eye who came to greet me.
As I turned onto the path that would return me to the main road I felt myself moved and opening with appreciation for the beauty and goodness of my environment, my life: having the time and flexibility to take a morning walk, the strength and coordination to walk where and how I please, pain-free, the mildly cool breeze caressing my arms and nourishing me, nice clothes and good shoes.
I reflected on this choice I’m making to feel life now. It wasn’t always so.
One morning almost 30 years ago, I lied in bed with my then husband, feeling the latent potential to feel enormous love for him. The emotion approached as an ocean wave and as it tumbled recklessly but surely toward me, I balked: if I were to feel that much warmth, tenderness and vulnerability while we were here together – one day wewouldn’t be. Suppose he died and I was left without him? I told myself that life works like a pendulum. Meaning, to the extent I loved him would come the equal extreme of grief. I thought I couldn’t bear such sense of loss, so in that moment I squeezed the tube that pumped such feelings so as to prevent its flow. It was a conscious decision to not feel too much goodness in order to avoid feeling too much of the wake left by its desertion.
Likewise, decades ago I learned that of our five senses, sight and hearing were apparently the primary ones. I read that someone once asked Helen Keller who had neither of those, if she could choose to have sight or hearing, which one would it be? I was surprised that she selected hearing over sight. I was confident until then that vision was the most important sense. It was the one I would have chosen. I also read about how when one sense is impaired, another one will step up in its sensitivity and capability to compensate. I thought about Stevie Wonder and wondered how his blindness informed his musical gifts. I felt intensely the sadness when imagining I didn’t have my sense of vision. I loved and was attached to seeing. Acutely aware of the potential loss of my favored sense, I decided to not enjoy or depend on it too much, because what if someday I didn’t have it anymore? I’d feel such anguish I might not recover joy for my life. Another tube squinched: don’t feel too much. Don’t enjoy too much. Don’t take anything for granted because it could all leave at any moment (and one day it will,) and then how would I feel? Wouldn’t I be the fool who had succombed to adoration of and embeddedness into this temporary life on earth?
I have always been painfully aware of the ephemeral nature of this life and it has always terrified me. One night when I was still married I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. In the dark I gazed out the window at the cobalt sky pierced with silver blue stars. I thought, “I’m alive. I’m physical.” It scared me knowing this. It felt like a secret and lone consciousness that I wasn’t supposed to have; like seeing behind the magician’s curtain. I still have this sense of “I’m alive,” often. It used to frighten me with the sense of groundlessness and illusion; that I couldn’t count on anything, really. Realizing this I decided I wouldn’t be deluded. I was onto the trick and game of this experience called “life.” I wouldn’t fall for it like everyone else. I was smarter, I knew more, I saw the truth.
So I tried to pinch closed the umbilical cord between the universe and “me.” Did it leave me safe? Invulnerable? I may have felt protected, but the veil was thin. I felt alone and unaccompanied: the cost of squelching and cordoning myself off from the flow and emotion of living.
As more and more people I know have died, and as I have experienced earthquakes and illnesses which I feared could be the fast road to “it,” mortality has become less deniable. How much time I have left on earth is a real question and concern. The pressing thumb of impermanence has really got me asking, “What do I want to experience in my remaing time? How do I want to live?”
These last years I’ve grappled and tumbled with letting Existence win the arm wrestle. I’ve said, “Okay, I surrender; I choose to live. I wantto live. I want to feel it all.” And so I’m in this excruciating and glorious dichotomy, tossed about on the waves sometimes gently, sometimes roughly. I don’t ride them skillfully, necessarily, but I’m getting used to and accepting more the lack of control and predictability.
Mostly, I’m beginning to release the expectation of doing life perfectly. It’s a process, I’m a student, I’m doing better. I’m feeling better and trusting that more. I don’t really know anything, and I’m learning to relax more into the free-fall.
What about you?