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I had a birthday last month, fifty-nine if you must know. It seemed like a big deal. I went to Tucson and the Sonoran Desert to cogitate. I had the week all mapped out. I was going to write, see a few friends, and contemplate my belly button in the gilded glow of the winter desert sun and the venerable Saguaro Cactus. I landed in Phoenix and swaggered through the airport past all those travelers who had to look for signs to know where they were going. This wasn’t my first rodeo; I’d been to Phoenix before and knew the airport car rentals were off-site. I was first in line at the Hertz counter. However, as the agent scrolled through her computer, the creases on her forehead grew deeper. I had reserved a car at the wrong off-site Hertz! Breathe. She would be happy to get me a car at double my current rate. Breathe. I caught a Uber and rode cross-town to the other Hertz. This time I strolled to the counter with a little less swagger. The agent was young, handsome and sweet—one of those faces that feels like looking into the sun.
He pointed to his empty lot and said, “Sorry but I don’t have any cars.” Breathe. I told him my tale of woe and he brightened, “Well, I don’t have any cars but I do have a mini van and a monster truck.”
I smiled at the universe’s sense of humor. Perfect. I wanted to take the monster truck but settled on the soccer mom van and asked for a baby seat . . . just in case. The agent, who I decided was Apollo the sun god, laughed and said I could trade the mini van for a car once I got to Tucson.
As it turned out, Tucson was in the middle of their annual Gem and Mineral Show, the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem show in the world. You guessed it . . . every Hertz phone number attached to a live person said they didn’t have cars. Breathe. Regardless, I set off for the airport rental office in one final attempt to exchange my family bus for something more modest. I shuffled (the swagger was gone) to their counter. Yep, no cars.
This time my breath bubbled up into a chuckle, “Wow, what a journey. A mini van it is.”
The agent smiled in return. “Let me check something.” She looked through some papers and then said, “Well, if you want . . . I could trade your mini van for a black Corvette convertible.”
I laughed out loud and thought, wow, a muscle car . . . it roars and swaggers. My expectations for the week shifted and sifted through my fingers and I settled on a very different kind of intention—I would look for surprises.
I know what you’re thinking, who likes surprises—they’re scary. So why on earth would I go looking for them? Surprises are a blind date with disaster, right? The truth is, I do try to manage life with as few surprises as possible. Fear demands it. Like most of us, I have come to my fear honestly. Bad things have happened that I wish I could have avoided. Bad things might happen so I take preemptive defensive action. However, the nature of fear is that it reduces the scope of my awareness and everything outside of that narrow band of light is unseen. During real danger this focus is essential but sometimes I wonder if I have lost my ability to differentiate real danger from a pervasive orientation of fear. This is when mindful breathing is helpful. It’s like shaking an Etch A Sketch and erasing all the messy black squiggly lines. It creates the room to pay attention to what is rather than what was or might be. It gives me butterfly wings to land and rest lightly on the present moment without building a shrine or dropping a bomb. The late Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck said, “Joy is whatever is happening, minus our opinion of it.”
Yesterday during my meditation my phone started to vibrate when a text came in. It fell off the arm of the couch and into my lap. I must have been in a butterfly state because the whoosh of the phone sliding off the couch and the thump into my lap reminded me of my little brother and the things he used to throw at me to get my attention. I immediately began a belly laugh—those ridiculous childhood fights and my nemesis who was incessant in his attempts to take me out of my head and into the present. I’m still not sure about the noble intentions of dirt clods but as I sat there and laughed, the essence of my brother warmed my heart with gratitude and love.
There is often something extraordinary in the ordinary if we give ourselves the gift of compassionate awareness. I’m experimenting with a new ritual in the morning. Before I leave the warm cocoon of my bed, I take a deep breath and say, “Surprise me.”
3/7/2018 02:20:04 pm
3/13/2018 12:53:01 am
I love this. Glad you remembered to breathe during those moments and that you got to drive a really fun car!
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Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.