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Slipping a Cog

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity every parent understands: the last week of the school year.   In a practical world, albeit less fun, the activities and festivities would be spread out like jam across the bread of the year.  Instead, it’s a flurry of goodbye’s and hello’s, ceremonies and parties, concerts and recitals, field trips and paperclips.  My iphone chimed like a doorbell on the fritz all last week.  My performance peaked by Monday and the rest of the week is a blur of incompetency and disorganization.

In the past week I repeatedly lost my phone in my bag.  The kind of  “lost” where you can hear the phone because you are calling it from another phone, but you still cannot locate it. I also I left my wallet at home after making it through the line at the grocery store with my 4 year old who was limping on one foot because she took her socks off and had a blister by checkout.  I also walked off with the cordless home phone and put it in my purse mistaking it for my cell phone because I had it to my ear long enough to forget.  I let my e-mails go, and discovered an inbox of 1, 359 yesterday morning.  I forgot to update my daughter’s camp schedule and I never got back to my mother about the dance recital times.  I’ll stop here.  At least I was not alone, my friend left her cell phone AND her garage door opener at my house yesterday.  We shared a silent and empathic moment of eye contact and understanding, one nut to another.

Of course, these are just little things.  Though they are easy enough to focus on. It is always tempting to jump to the story about what I didn’t do, what I couldn’t do and what should have happened.  It’s the perfect formula for misery.  But, if you know the recipe, you can catch it before you combine all the ingredients for making the perfect storm. Very much like the migraine I enhanced last Tuesday. These unpleasant pieces are part of the story, but they are not the whole story.   I am learning, for only the past decade or so, from the Wisdom Keepers to train my attention on the bigger picture and embody a more mindful approach to a challenging day or week.   It’s a practice, so I am not always successful in the moment, clearly.  The goal is not perfection (thankfully) but simply to increase the frequency of awareness in daily life. Something I will continue to practice and learn.

“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

If I list here what I did accomplish, like any other parent during the last week of school, it sounds like an awards ceremony: Then, ladies and gentlemen she dashed up two flights to find a band aid for her daughter while participating in a phone conference, purchased nine gifts in twenty minutes, made a pasta salad with one hand and a fruit pizza with the other, saved three spiders  – and two girls – from a scary situation, etc..  Sometimes,  that’s just what we need.  Like when my daughters were very small and I would list the things I had already accomplished that day only to cross them off as done, so as to feel more uplifted (showered, changed a diaper, got dressed, made a sandwich, gave a piggy back ride, held the baby, carried the baby, kissed the baby, sang to the baby, talked to myself, kissed the baby, talked to the baby, then again to myself….).   If we are honest, we recognize that our lives, most days,  involve a team of help.  Sometimes the team involves good friends, or even the more forgiving aspects of our own inner being.  Or strangers with kindness, like Clint, who patiently took my cart full of unpaid-for groceries to customer service, sweetly normalizing the absurdity of my situation while I arranged to retrieve my wallet (husband like superhero to the rescue).

Unless we choose a solitary and silent monastic life, we need each other. I suppose even monks are not exempt from the independence myth. When all is going well we can easily pretend we are competently on our own while floating gently around in a fragile happiness bubble; it’s one part independent illusion and one part collective delusion. When we need help, which is a lot of the time, is when things get very interesting.  When we are stressed and not grounded in awareness, we can become a snarky. And this is usually when we need help the most which can be, in many cases, scary as hell.   Caregiving, for others and for ourselves requires a unique kind of choreography.  Not only do the dancers change, but so does the rhythm.  Hitting the mark doesn’t always happen, so we must keep on dancing, making it up as we go along and learning from those with more experienced steps and expertise in movement, relationship and collaboration.   I just made that sound like a metaphorical motivational poster, but in all seriousness, we underestimate the grease it takes to keep things moving. We also tend to overcomplicate what the grease is.  The grease is letting go and letting it be what it is. 

“To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is.”   ~Thich Nhat Hanh

The wisdom, as I have been schooled over and over again, is in remaining open. It’s in the neighborhood of Peace at the corner of Get Over It and It’s Alright. By this I mean letting people help, disarming the “I’ll do it myself, thank you” shield, it is allowing kindness by accepting the unexpected and getting over ourselves when we tell the story we need to do it ourselves, our way.  It means getting over our need to be right and getting out of the way, mostly our own.  So, how to do it?  It can’t really be done, it just is. It happens all on its own when we stop doing so much thinking and start being.  I keep learning this over and over again.

With this, I leave you with two things:

1) A wonderful article published this morning about aging, grace and the independence myth from a 93 year old expert on the topic, Rhoda Curtis:   Aging Gracefully: Why Getting Old is A Lot Like Being Young.

Rhoda is also a dancer (metaphorically and quite literally).

2) An amazing video, The Cog, which captures the Rube Goldberg-like synchronicity it requires for one simple task to be accomplished, the collaboration of many moving parts working together, practiced and executed over and over and over again.

Bonus Thich :

“And once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our heart.”
“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”

“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”   

~Thich Nhat Hanh

One response to “Slipping a Cog

  1. thanks.

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