A Rough Patch of Ice
Excavation of the soul is not always an easy task. It requires reflection, honesty, and plain old hard work. Up to this point in my journey the weather has been decent enough for me to work on the “easy”, peaceful part of this undertaking, and the few inclement days we’ve had I’ve spent volunteering, cleaning, or reading.
Yesterday on Christmas it snowed (which was delightful). Unfortunately, late Christmas night the temperature warmed up and the snow turned to freezing rain and sleet. Frankly I was hoping to get away from that crap (such an elegant term, I know) when I moved out of Pennsylvania. I was sincerely hoping that snow would just be snow in Maine. But, no. So now we have a 3 -4 inch icy freezing mess to navigate.
Because of my outstanding planning (and sheer luck), I rented a place in town so I could walk to everything. However, walking to everything (it turns out) really isn’t any easier than driving to everything when you have an icy, freezing mess. Nevertheless, I set out for my daily dose of fresh air at the wharf. The sun was shining, the sidewalks were basically clear on the main streets, but everywhere where it had started to melt was refreezing as the temperature began to drop again. AND, I learned something new about Bar Harbor – they are not great proponents of salt and/or ice melt products. Apparently, less is more is the principle at work here.
Well, you can probably see what’s coming. I slip and I fall. Fortunately, my right arm prevented me from going down too hard. Unfortunately, my right arm, shoulder muscles and tendons took the impact and are now sore, stiff, and achy. After righting myself, and regaining (sort of) my dignity, I resumed my walk and got back to the apartment without further incident.
But I found myself in a rare (since I got here) foul mood. I was mad at the weather, I was mad at myself (for walking when it was so icy), I was discovering sore spots all over the right side of my body, and THAT was making me mad because I had PLANS to go to a yoga class on Tuesday —- you get the idea.
In a valiant, albeit delayed attempt to calm myself, I “resorted” to a meditation session using my makeshift cushion set up. Fifteen – twenty minutes is about all I can muster at this point in my practice, but determined I was. Well, it did not take long for the truths of the day’s episode to reveal themselves.
Loss of control – I can’t control the weather, I can’t control who cleans the streets, I can’t control where the ice melts and where it refreezes.
Expectations – I expect the winter weather to be different here (all snow versus snow/ice), I expect that I can stay upright walking in hazardous conditions, I expect that I am going to be able to get outside whenever I want. I expect that my plans are not going to be ruined.
Aha, so this is where the real work begins – in adversity. Expectations are a form of control and control is an illusion. We can “control” things for a moment or two, but that’s about the extent of it.
Many of us (including myself) have been fortunate enough to have things “go our way” for long stretches of time. This lulls us into a sense of complacency and even entitlement – “I deserve to have things go my way”, “I’ve worked so hard”, “Why can’t the good times go on forever”, “why do things have to change”? Sooner or later that kind of thinking is gonna put you face down in a snow bank (figuratively and/or literally).
But the truth of the matter is we are all subject to the laws of impermanence. The only certainty in the world is that things WILL change. So maybe the ONLY expectation we should have is that there will be change in our lives. Expect the unexpected.
The other “certainty” I was reminded of by my “rough patch of ice” is how easy, and how quickly, I can fall back into patterns of negativity. I’m in pain, my plans are ruined, I hate this weather, etc.. Instead of: I didn’t break anything, pain is temporary, what other productive activities can I do with time, and how can I better protect myself in the future.
So I today I strapped on my best hiking shoes, and went back out. A walk around town, avoiding the wharf (the scene of my fall) this time. A drive to the park for a quick hike above the ocean (surf’ was lovely today ), and then a stop along “The Tarn”, (a marshy area at the foot of a cliff) to explore a possible hike option for later in the week. Oh, and some time spent on-line shopping for and/or winter hiking boots and crampons (ice grippers strapped over your shoes).
- I won’t tell you I’m in the best of moods today,because I’m still stiff and sore, but I’m acknowledging that there are times when “plain old hard work” is sometimes what it takes to move forward in the neverending process of understanding ourselves and thereby, humanity.
“….you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.
The blue sky opens out farther and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away,
the damage I have done to myself fades,
a million suns come forward with light,
when I sit firmly in that world.
by: Kabir (translated by Robert Bly)