Some friends and I went camping in Yosemite valley recently. It’s one of those places the words “grandeur” and “majestic” were invented to describe.
The Yosemites of the world can remind us to attend to the world’s beauty wherever we are, whether in the form of an oak tree, a kind word, or an architectural feat. Yet we humans often destroy beauty in all its forms in intentional and unintentional ways, sometimes even as it fills our souls with wonder. We drove to Yosemite after all.
Beauty evokes love, and love allows us to see the beauty in others and in the world. I believe that Love is the creative force in the universe. Yet sometimes we are exceptional lovers, and sometimes we miss the boat entirely. (Yes, that would make it the Love Boat. Sorry, couldn’t resist.) How can it be that we act contrary to the very fiber of our existence?
Perhaps we misunderstand the totality that love is. The nature of this universe is not to spring full-form into being but to develop, and we are creatures of this universe. Perhaps love is learning to be love, which is messy.
Learning involves being in tension between who we are and who we are becoming. It means making mistakes. It also makes possible the most beautiful transformation and the most profound change.
We might think that we must force ourselves to evolve the ability to better love one another, the animals, the Earth. It may be tempting to despair, to look at the devastation in the world and think it’s already too late. But if love is the nature of being, it will continue to evolve us. We cannot escape the direction in which we’re heading, and that direction is good.
Some people become Zen masters after a slap upside the head. As befits a Californian, my uncle found enlightenment when we were learning to surf a couple of weeks ago. This was his insight: “The board doesn’t become more stable; you become more used to instability.” I confess to being skeptical at first, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
I spent most of the first day of lessons learning not to be alarmed that the board was rushing with all possible speed toward the shore. (A shout out to our excellent instructor, Nick, from 2 Mile Surf Shop in Bolinas, who pushed us into the waves, which was the only reason I was speeding toward shore.) In retrospect, alarmed was an interesting reaction because I hadn’t jumped out of a plane and I wasn’t headed toward a rock wall. The worst possible outcome ended with the board running into the sand. Still, it took a goodly number of waves before I believed the sand wasn’t going to hurt me.
The second day consisted of trying to get from my knees to my feet and failing—instability galore. It’s easy to understand the idea of keeping your feet in the middle of the board and a lot harder to do it.
On the third day came acceptance of instability, just as my uncle had said. I doubt my feet were much closer to the middle of the board than the previous day, but similar to overcoming my fear of running headlong into the menacing sand, I stopped freaking out as soon as the board wobbled. This had the miraculous effect of keeping the board from tipping over—at least not immediately—thus giving me more time to teeter back and forth and get my feet under me. I don’t think it was pretty, but I did stand all the way up and get off the board on purpose twice.
Riding the wobble is a lot like getting friendly with the “A” word—acceptance. If we stopped wishing for everything to be perfect and smooth, we might find that we can get a nice ride in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. If you master that, let me know. I think I’m still on day two.
I’m beginning to suspect that there are lessons I will never learn in this lifetime. Such as empty the compost bucket you forgot about before leaving for vacation as soon as you discover it rather than after writing a blog post. Or don’t plan a lunch date for every day the week you return from vacation because it might just stress you out.
Seeing that these changes may never happen is a little like the time I realized I wasn’t going to read everything of consequence that had ever been written or see the whole world or learn to speak three more languages. That happened in my late twenties, and I was pretty upset about it.
I am not so upset this time around, which feels like progress. My own recalcitrance and resistance to change still puzzle me, but most days they no longer appear to be faults that might knock the world off its axis. (There are, of course, days when a lot of chocolate is required to achieve this perspective.)
Also with age has come the ability to recognize incremental improvements. For example, I had the good sense to leave myself a free day between travel and returning to work, which is a rare accomplishment for me. Of course I spent much of it watching Arrested Development, but we mustn’t rush progress.
Note: I apologize for the inconsistency of blog posts this summer. With any luck, this post should mark a return to a more regular publishing schedule.