Sunday, August 3, 2008

All of it


I have been following this practice for just short of one month. I had expected that there would be some insights, perhaps a shift in perception or priority, or something.

One very huge change in my way of viewing things, however, I did not at all expect;

I am finding that when days come where I am not feeling all that well, when I am tired, or when I am in a great deal of pain (such as this morning.. I did quite a bit of work yesterday which involved many hours of standing, bending, and turning, lifting heavy loads, and often carrying them on slippery floors - which makes one stand and walk oddly; out of fear of falling, I suppose...) - I am hurting in places where I hadn't known I had places! (My hair hurts ... and I don't have any hair!)

I am finding that, rather than being miserable, or annoyed, or any of the emotions or mental states that have habitually accompanied such pain or disability, I am actually happy, appreciative (yes.. that's what I said!) and upbeat, pain not withstanding.

Yes, I am hurting. Yes, it prevents me from being able to move or even be the way I normally do.. at least physically. But, I don't care. It is simply one more thing to get used to... they stream at us unendingly... so, why kick and scream about it?? Bring it on!

The pain isn't any less than I remember, and I still find it somewhat embarrassing to be hobbling about, but, with only 11 months and just over 5 days of life left; I am simply happy to be able to feel even this. At any rate, it certainly beats getting stabbed in the eye with a sharpened stick! And.. I don't intend on allowing some discomfort to steal away the the precious time that I have left to me.. however long it is. I can choose to get bogged down by some issue that is less than pleasant, or I can accept it with an open heart, appreciate that my physical body is functioning properly, and efficiently protecting itself from more damage while it repairs and mends all of the wee bits that I strained, stretched, spindled, and mutilated, and simply get on with it!

In the Irish language, current protocol insists that when we are speaking in English, and describing the language, we should call it 'Irish' as opposed to 'Gaelic'. When speaking Gaelic (Hey!) however, we call the language Gaelic, in Gaelic.. so there! Don't ask... its just the way it is!

Scottish Gaelic is Ghaidhlig in Gaelic, and Irish Gaelic is Gaeilge in Gaelic, but, when speaking of (Irish) Gaelic in English.. its 'Irish' and not 'Gaelic'.. or you get one of those looks! You may, however, refer to Scottish Gaelic as Gaelic, and although you may still get a look, it will be a look that has nothing to do with what term you are using to refer to Gaelic, but more of a look that is wondering why you would refer to it at all... or something.

Anyway, in Irish we have a proverb; "Marbh le té agus marbh gan é" (we don't use the letters the same way as they are used in English - this is pronounced ((roughly)) as Maruv ((or Maduv, since you sort of roll the R)) luh tay ah-guss maduv gahn ay) - 'Marbh' means 'dead'. 'Le' means 'with'. Té is Tea. 'Agus' means 'and'. Gan is 'gone' and 'é' is 'it'.

So the overall meaning would be, literally "Dead with your tea, and dead without it." - the implication being, for those whose eyes have begun to glaze over, that one should, when faced with an unavoidable and miserable set of circumstances, take enjoyment out of whatever becomes available to you.. regardless of how seemingly insignificant this enjoyment may appear to be. Each situation will present different possibilities... some are better than others... some are much, much worse... but there is always something. The trick is to find it, and to make the very best of it. Truthfully, it may be all you have.. so... why waste it??

When I was a young warrior attending Paratrooper training or 'Jump School' we were, on one particular day, receiving instruction on possible malfunctions or mishaps.

In this particular part of the class, we were learning how to deploy our reserve parachute if the main chute failed to properly deploy, and if we were unable, for some reason, to cut it away... due to altitude (which determines how much time you have to fart around with things... sort of like life, right?! The closer you are to hitting the ground.. the less time you have to fool around with unimportant details! Ha!)

Anyhoo.. we were taught that this particular situation would likely result in a 'spin'.. this means that as we plummeted towards earth, the raggedy-assed and useless malfunctioning parachute that was trailing our fall in a streamer of death would cause us to spiral towards earth, rather than simply falling to earth in an orderly and military fashion!

If we were to simply pop the reserve chute this is what would likely happen; as we spiraled towards the earth, the reserve chute would begin to deploy, and our spiraling motion would cause the reserve parachute to wind around the main parachute, getting it hopelessly entangled and effectively putting an end to any minute hope we may have harbored at actually living through this situation.

If the main chute winds and becomes entangled with the main chute - you are a bomb.

That's all! Thank you for playing... Good EVEning!! It's sort of like winning second prize in a Mexican Cliff Diving competition - you get a plaque that reads '2nd Place - "Stuff on a Rock"' Very nice.

So.. in order to avoid that admittedly yummy sounding outcome, we were taught to hold the parachute tightly to our body (the reserve parachute is located just over your solar plexus.. just so this makes sense) ease the ripcord out, and drop it...(you don't need that any more.. it just gets in the way, and its one more thing to land on if you screw this up!), gather the parachute into both hands, and throw it down and towards whatever direction you happen to be spinning.

The Blackhat (Airborne Instructors are called Blackhats.. because they wear hats... that are, well, black... so, well... you know... I'm just sayin'!) who was teaching the class described this action as being similar to passing a basketball - you sort of bounce the ball towards the other player.

Some bright-light amongst us Airborne student asked "What do you do if it doesn't work?", and the Blackhat sagely replied, "What the hell do you think you might do, cool breeze?!?! You reel that reserve chute back in and you try it again! -- UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT!!"

He then put his fists on his hips, surveyed the motley crowd of soldiers gaping at him and asked "...and how long do you think you might have to GET IT RIGHT??"

After a few seconds of 'deer-in-the-headlight' eyeballs and fly-catching gaping mouths, you could see the wheels begin to spin as each soldier present began to try to extrapolate a suitable time-frame from dividing the likely altitude by the terminal velocity of a falling human body (A free falling object achieves its terminal velocity when the downward force of gravity (Fg) equals the upward force of drag (Fd). This causes the net force on the object to be zero, resulting in an acceleration of zero.

Mathematically an object asymptotically approaches and can never reach its terminal velocity. However, in something that will likely only last for a very short period of time, relatively speaking, the Army allows us to approximate a correct answer in this instance, so we are taught that terminal velocity for our purposes is approximately 120 MPH which can be increased to approximately 200 MPH if the falling individual pulls his or her limbs in close to their body... in case you were wondering) in order to come up with some answer that sounded plausible... (it would be measured in seconds, by the way...) after a few moments of mental gymnastics on the part of the student body, the answers began to trickle in; "Um.. a minute?" "NO, JACKASS!! NICE TRY! GET DOWN!!

('Get Down!' is Army parlance for 'Do pushups!' -- this act of doing pushups serves as penance, punctuation (i.e. a physical exclamation point to be appended to some concept, issue, or statement that the person in charge is trying to convey..) or, strangely, a way of enhancing esprit de corps. Go figure! But, it works.. This particular set of pushups translated as, 'Wrong Answer! Stop that!') - wrong answers continued to roll in.. "Ten seconds?" ""NO! GET DOWN!", "2.354 seconds?" "HOLY SHIT!! WHO ARE YOU?! ALFRED EINFELD?! NO!! GET DOWN!!"

(I, rather diplomatically, I thought.. forewent the correction which begged to be administered in that one, by the way...) followed by punitive pushups, until the Blackhat, in exasperation at the density of our skulls, leaned his face closer to us (obstensibly to get his huge, loud mouth a few inches closer to our ears, I guess..) and bellowed, at the top of his lungs, "YOU HAVE THE REST OF YOUR MISERABLE, WORTHLESS LIVES TO GET IT RIGHT!! SO KEEP TRYING UNTIL YOU DO GET IT RIGHT.. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?!?!"

Point taken. This happened to be one of those moments in my life when somebody made a point with a specific situation in mind.. and the advice turned out to be a gem of wisdom that applied to everything although they may not have intended it that way. As an aside, I happened to run into that particular Blackhat just a few months ago, and was able to tell him how that advice had made such an impression on me, and to thank him for teaching me well, and for doing his job in such an exemplary fashion. In turn, he introduced me to his entire family, and I got a bone-crushing, gut squelching hug that one can only receive from a fellow soldier, or a fellow boxer... you soldiers and fighters out there will recognize this as a truth.

Regarding my present practice, and some of the realizations that are stemming from it - Well, they are fairly simple, really; The time is passing very quickly; more quickly than I would have expected. The time that I have left to live is literally flying by at an unprecedented speed... and there is nothing whatsoever that I can do to slow it down, or to stop it.

I have the time that I have... and that is all. Apparently, some part of my brain that is not readily accessible to me has shifted in some fashion, with the result that I am feeling appreciative of even the moments that in the past I most likely would not have found so very deserving of my appreciation.

What is even more surprising to me, is that I have never made this jump in perspective in the past. Oh... I have briefly made a token nod to it when I was in a "sour grapes" frame of mind, and powerless to change it... but underneath the facade of bravado and partial acceptance, I was... well, dissatisfied. It seems to me that fundamentally, there is no difference in my life during this practice than there was prior to it. The end of my life was rushing to intercept my life with blinding speed from the moment I drew my first breath.

I reckon I was simply blind to it until now.

Another strange thing is that I would have thought that keeping the fact of my not so distant death (well.. no matter how you look at it.. it can only be what... 50 years, tops?) in the forefront of my mind would have been oppressive and saddening.. perhaps even causing anger, or at least a sense of helpless futility. But this is not what I am experiencing. On the contrary, I find it to be liberating. My life from moment to moment is lighter and I seem much better equipped to take the bumps and knocks in stride. The crappy bits that plague most of our days simply don't seem to me to be all that big of a deal really.

There are no bad days... and there are no good days; there are only days. And, frankly, when I open my eyes in the morning to find that I woke under my own steam, and that I can get up unaided - no tubes, no wires, no medications.. just me. No matter whether I am sleepy, or that I have to go somewhere and do something that I might not prefer to do... or that I have financial worries, or any other types of concerns. I woke up. You have to be alive to wake up.... its a good day to start with; So why bring a bad day to you?

Every thing that passes my attention and my focus is my life. Every single minute detail. What I decide to get hung up on is within my power to decide. What I am learning is that when I would turn my attention to some physical pain that is hindering me, I allow it to encompass my entire world with the result that I miss the tens of thousands of other things that are pleasant, and welcome, and indescribably beautiful. Whatever misery I happen to be facing is only a very small part of the whole - but, it is a part... and I will take it. Whatever it is. I have learned to accept my life in whatever form it takes as it unfolds.

This is well, because it is my life... all of it!

This practice has bestowed some very special, very valuable, and quite unlooked-for gifts upon me. I am very grateful for this. Life is short, and nothing is guaranteed. I cannot afford to squander a single second. Not ever again.

My life, you see, is just as it is.. and that is precisely what it should be... Other people's lives may be different... but mine is following the path that it follows... I can direct it to some degree, but wherever it goes, and whatever form it takes, it happens to be the only life that I have.

Marbh le té, agus marbh gan é! - HA!


John said...

Dear monk,

My grandfather, then in his 90's, was often heard to mutter:
"I woke up this morning. What are YOU complaining about?"

His wife reported that he was looking in the mirror as he said this.

with love


Bunan Unsui said...

Ha! That's *great*!! How I would have enjoyed meeting him!! Thank so much for graciously sharing that with me!