So Happy I Could Cry

♪ I’m So Glad (Skip James, ca 1931) YouTube

What is it about joy that has such power to make me teary-eyed? How can I be grinning like a maniac as I’m hauling wood from the woodpile in a wind so cold it freezes my snot?

I want to ask how I ever got to this place, this happy place I am in this moment, but I don’t need to ask – I know the answer: Even though it seems like a miracle bursting into my life it’s actually the result of decades of work of purposefully changing who I am.

Purposefully creating a life as opposed to being tumbled through the stream of time willy-nilly. Making my own choices even though they often pit me against the flow. Risking drowning in order to save my life.

No – to create it.

We each have our own life story and we each are the sole author of that story. The question is how the story will be written: by chance or on purpose?

I’ve known my answer since I was a kid — but knowing isn’t implementing.

The problem is I keep forgetting to choose in spite of the fact that it feels so good when I do. It’s not my fault. It’s simply the nature of living as a human being. We have epiphanies but we are bound to lose them. We spend more time seeking than basking in enlightenment. It’s not our fault! We’re human!

Thank the gods for art, what we humans do to memorialize our connections with enlightenment and to remind us to remember them again. Doesn’t matter what kind of art: writing, music, dance, painting, sculpture – and yes, the art of being ourselves, too, if we allow it. Art stretches our inner selves, makes us high. What’s not to love about that?

But enlightenment is an impermanent state of being. We don’t live in the Zone, we aspire to it. While we bask in instances of great art our souls are hauled up to a higher level – but we don’t get to stay there.

We have to choose it over and over again. On purpose.

Enlightenment for human beings is not a state of being but moments of bliss. The trick, it turns out, is not to try to grab those moments and hold on to them, for they are ephemeral in nature and will slip away. The trick is rather to choose have lots of those moments, one right after the other, until miraculously it feels like they are all the moments there are.

Chop wood, carry water. That’s said to be the way of the path. Most people take it as a metaphor. Much to my surprise, in doing the wood and water thing in real life I discovered that those tasks have kept redirecting my feet back onto the path. The path is not to enlightenment but of enlightenment.

So, hey, make your choices. Choose to have a blissful moment or a million! Here, have a tissue.

♪ I’m So Glad (Cream, 1966) YouTube

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True Adventure

Evening over Grand Canyon  2019 Lif Strand

For me a true adventure must be an extraordinary experience that shakes my world off its axis. There has to be an element of risk that come from the potential for real danger associated with venturing into the unknown and even unknowable. There has to be challenge, both physical and mental, that forces me to draw upon depths I hoped were there but could not know without starting forth on the adventure.

It’s not enough for an experience to be only risky, or only a challenge, though. A true adventure is one that allows me to become a new person for the duration.  Hopefully some of that will stick with me afterwards.  Hopefully I will find myself changed forever, a little or a lot, for good or for bad.

I’ve done Grand Canyon twice before and it did that for me then.  Grand Canyon 2019 was still true adventure for me.

Now, just a week from having last seen it, the impact of that incredible view has faded. That’s not too surprising, because unless I’m actually looking at it my mind shies away from its immensity. Photos simply cannot convey the hugeness of it, whereas being there and standing literally on the edge of the rim and looking out to the enormity of size and age is mind blowing.

My human mind is just not capable of holding onto the enormity of the Grand Canyon any more than it can hold onto an instant of pure bliss. These are transient states of extreme intensity, and to dwell in them unprepared would  fry my poor brain.

Part of what delivers the intensity of Grand Canyon is the extreme contrast. The south rim is nearly a mile higher than Phantom Ranch. In January it’s deep winter at the top but already on the cusp of spring at the bottom. Restaurants and room service and crowds and traffic at the top, hours when you might see no other human being on the trail and then only a couple dozen fellow trekkers at the bottom. All the amenities of civilization at the top, primitive, even survivalist, conditions at the bottom.

And more.

Morning sunshine on a distant bluff at Grand Canyon  2019 Lif Strand photoThe Grand Canyon is rich with nuances of earth tones but the deep shadows confuse the eye. One moment the sun glares off the snow and it’s time to put on sunglasses and remove gloves and hat and scarf. The next, after stepping down and around an outcropping, it’s too dark to see and it’s winter again.

I go down and down and down and the river is never getting any closer and I know I’m going to be out on the trail forever, but suddenly it’s there, a brown, roiling mass of water that feeds me the energy to shout over its roar.

A couple days later I’m slogging up the trail, each step a stab of pain, my lungs burning as I try to suck in enough oxygen to keep going, and I look up to see crayon-colored hot-air balloons sailing through the clear blue sky above.  I pass a velvet-antlered buck that placidly chews spears of green grass , unperturbed as I walk by him just a few feet away.

Young deer ignoring me on the trail  2019 Lif Strand photo

I stare at the colors, the distances, the age, the amazing extraordinary beauty, and try so very hard to hold it in — but like a deep breath I soon must let it go.

Now, a week later, Grand Canyon is a fading memory. I learned some things: I was more prepared to do this hike than the first two times, but I was not prepared enough. I didn’t need to hurt so much. I didn’t need to forget so quickly.

And yet now I’ve healed and find myself stronger than I was before.  I’ve been nudged off center — not far, but enough that I’m forced to find new balance in my life.

It’s a good thing.

So yeah, Grand Canyon was a true adventure for me.  I can’t wait till I get to do it again!