A while back I heard a piece about the differences in the way Eastern cultures and Western cultures view their lives. It boils down to this. Eastern cultures tend to accept the ebb and flow – the natural process of destruction, cleansing and rebirth that often happens several times throughout the course of one’s life. Conversely, Western cultures (in this case, the US being the comparison) tend to see life as a linear process of sustained upward development. One in which we (those experiencing life) exert control over our position and outcomes. The first view is naturalistic or even perhaps fatalistic. The other, while vastly more egocentric, holds within it the promise of self-made progress, or Manifest Destiny. Also sometimes known as C-O-N-T-R-O-L. I suspect religion has a large influence here, but I won’t even go there.
It seems to me that we Western sorts have a rather dismal record of dealing with uncertainty. We have been conditioned to stand in judgement of ourselves (or others) when faced with setbacks or restarts. What I find perplexing is how we don’t see the silliness of it all. How we have been sold a bill of goods that keeps us weighed down rather than that life-affirming chance at a big flush of the toilet. We have been trained to think up is the only way and down is a dirty secret. Rather than seeing setbacks or natural cycles as grand opportunities for cleansing and renewal, instead we let our internal jury convict with little to no evidence – leading to shame, depression and despair. Then, when we are unable to live in the constant upside, we seek solace in our consumption – whether alcohol, IKEA, drugs, sex or the Kardashians, the numbing ensues and the Technicolor of life in either direction grows dim. For there is no true joy without true sorrow and by buffering one we also buffer the other.
What we are left with is a watered down and backed up mess.
But, nature has in her toolbox an infinite number of devices for resetting the stage. She uses them all constantly. From the extreme such as earthquakes, hurricanes and forest fires, to the twice daily rise and fall of the ocean tides. Today, I had the opportunity (or perhaps they had the misfortune) of explaining the concept of high and low tide to my small children. Remember these are seriously land-locked offspring, so this is not a concept with which they are intimately familiar. My explanation would have probably made my sixth grade science teacher wonder why she wasted her time, but to illustrate my Neanderthal explanation, we visited the same beach in British Columbia twice in one day.
Once in the morning during low tide.
And again in the afternoon during high tide.
The tide went out leaving colonies of mussels exposed, huge driftwood timbers tossed about like tidily winks and the floor of the sea to air dry. Only hours later, it came rushing back in all its power and filled it all in again. Rinse and repeat. Twice daily. This experience and my infantile attempt to explain the magnificence of the natural world reminded me once again of the notable difference between the Eastern and Western way of thinking.
My take is that nature is a bad ass bitch that creates and destroys on cue. It seems only reasonable that the human experience should be the same. There are forces at work so vastly out of our control, yet our control-obsessed culture teaches us nothing of surrender. It seems this tool doesn’t fit neatly into the contemporary American toolbox.
So why can’t we just let go and ride the tide?
Being from Texas, I am all for making my own way in this life. Hell this is me down to the molecular level. I bet if you were to view my blood under a microscope, it might look something like Wiley Coyote whistling Dixie. Obviously I am no scientist and anyway, perhaps this is too personal, but I have found an ounce of peace in the surrender. Now, hey there, don’t go crazy and think I won’t fight when a fight is called for, but I no longer try to fight the natural course of things. For inevitably, the tide will go out and the tide will come in twice daily – ebb and flow. As it is in nature, it is in human life.
At least that’s the way I see it.
I haven’t had much to say recently. Hold on, I should be a bit more accurate, I always have had plenty to say, even if no one wants to hear it. But for the past several months, every time I have gone to the writer’s well, my bucket comes up dry as a bone.
Not even one word.
I suspect this dry spell has a little something to do with a condition called limbo. Not the hyper-bendy dance made fashionable by our friends in Trinidad and Tobago and that I tried to pass off recently as Hawaiian during my daughter’s 6YO luau-themed birthday party. No, it is more akin to the Seussian “Waiting Place.” Not a bad place per se, just a quiet place for regrouping and reconsidering choices and options before heading straight out of town.
Was I waiting on a bus?
Was I waiting for a yes or no?
I have no idea and it doesn’t really matter. It is simply time to go.
What have I learned from my waiting place?
That real life happens in the contradictions. That you are not one thing or another, but both and more. That there are many paths your life can take and not one is the perfect one. That sometimes you have to travel to the moon and back to see what has been sitting right in front of you all along. That sometimes you find yourself playing not to lose rather than playing to win. That a fierceness can be quieted, but not extinguished. That life will inevitably get daily and when it does, you must dig deeper and push harder. That when you come up bone dry, you have to keep taking that trip to the well, because eventually the life-giving water will return.
Today I went back to the well and when I pulled up the bucket, it runneth over with refreshing goodness. I sat under a tree with a stranger and listed three essential values I hold dear. That made all the difference and I made a promise to be true to them now that I see them clearly.
Autonomy. Authenticity. Purpose.
There they are. Pretty simple, right?
Now your turn. What are your essentials? What are those values you cannot bear to ignore?
I’ll let you think that one over. As for me, I am done waiting for the bus, train or a yes/no. I am simply headed straight out of town.
An epic scene enters my mind without warning. I find myself behind the eyes of a Bedouin shepherd as he walks across the Sinai. A cloth rests across his weathered face and I feel his warm breath, moving slowly in and out as he walks across the vast desert. There is an intoxicating rhythm to his steps and for a brief instant, I see what he sees, feel what he feels, hear what he hears.
His feet have walked this path before, much like those who came before him. The constant sound of the howling wind surrounds him like the comforting embrace of ancestors, pushing him onward. I drift with him over this ancient place.
He approaches a steep gorge and pauses at the edge, his red-patterned kufeya blowing fiercely behind him. He stands strong upon the edge and I inhabit his fierce, nomadic soul. We stand together in this moment, out in the open. Living only with what can be carried and leaving only footprints behind.
It was the night train. Boarded in Geneva after sunset and pulled into Rome at sunrise.
Chuck, chuck – chuck, chuck through Lombardia.
Rolled from side to side on the top bunk that night. At one point, I awoke to the sound of Italian immigration officers shouting and beating on the paper-thin door of the couchette. Couchette, that’s a fancy word isn’t it? Go ahead – use it three times tomorrow. Here’s one you can try “did Francis leave his pipe in the couchette?”
“Passaporto!” Read the rest of this entry »
I talk to myself a lot. Not so much out loud for that would imply that I am bat shit crazy. Sometimes I do it by writing to myself.
Like recently while sitting on a plane somewhere over New York… Read the rest of this entry »
Look closely at this picture. What do you see?
You might see a tall, handsome man in board shorts standing beside a black luxury vehicle.
But, look closer… Read the rest of this entry »