Warmth in a Great Storm

It would be a brutal shame for me to delete the previous post, because what we see illustrated in the ranting & raving voice of “I’m going to walk away from all this and quit,” is character growth. It’s a beautiful thing to not have to hide your dark side. In the human world, one of the greatest lessons we could ever teach ourselves is to pull the dark toward the light and vice versa. Our dark sides are full of will and power, of limitless strength down to the last cell of our being.

The energy is simply being misdirected. All the pain–all the fear that says you have no options and nowhere to go–it’s simply telling you to drop into the moment. Be with this crisis, it begs. Mold it into your character. Solve this apparently unsolvable riddle and add it to your badges, because once the opportunity passes to learn from a particular crisis, it may never come again. I had something like this at the winery.

I was running a case packer that bottled a dozen 750mL bottles, and no matter how hard I tried, there was no way to keep the machine running. 250 feet of line meant running back and forth trying to fix mistakes before any error switches were hit. At a run speed of 190 bottles per minute, the task seemed impossible. I was catching stray bottles and bad drops within split seconds of halting the line. A box doesn’t get taped…a hundred feet and two seconds away, a broken bottle…another second later on the entry ramp to the machine, the bottles jam up. Back and forth without a stop.

I could feel the stress mounting. It would go in sharp jolts–hot nervous waves that pulsed from my head, down my neck and shoulders and into the rest of my body. My accidents increased as I tensed up–the bloodflow throttle pushed to its maximum and my face glowing red like a warning gauge.

Then Mary Ann walked by. “You’re doing fine,” she told me. “Don’t let it get to you.” I was pushing as hard as I could to keep that machine running, and riddling
my body with angry chopped pulses to do it. The external signs of this had to be apparent: white knuckles, a fire-truck red face, sharp motion.

I’m keeping damn thing running. If I’m doing that, why should I calm down?

One reason: It would be much easier to accomplish the same task without hating the moment. The idea snapped in me right after Mary Ann passed by. She was right. Whether I was angry or frustrated didn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter to the machine.

The point of the lesson engulfed me, speaking over the PA system in my head. “The tragedy isn’t the circumstances around you; the tragedy is that you’re not enjoying them…â€? Followed by a quick “You have to enjoy this situation. You’ve got to love this moment and the next—it’s the only way to dance, it’s the only way to learn, and it’s what you asked for. Be here, because you’ll never play out the same situation the same way ever again.â€?

It was true. I left the winery over a year ago, and my memories of that job are some of my favorites. If you’ve never worked on a factory line, you haven’t understood the human condition. If you haven’t created something with efficiency and precision in an endless line with half a dozen independent minds, communicating through instinct, body language, and verbal code, you miss the primary physical function of humanity that allows us the level of convenience we take for granted in supermarkets, department stores, electronics equipment, and our choice in vehicular transport.

Finally. The idea rushed in. Flow with this moment, because it’s never going to be the same again. Learn from this time and place, or miss the lesson. You are connected to things in such a way now that you will never have another experience like it.

The tension broke. Waves of nervous heat subsided into a warm fluidity. The machine was going to behave the way its components were placed, whether I was singing, dancing, or kicking the door panels of the damn thing. The best I could do is keep flowing with it, catching the errors before they happened.

Don’t fight with the moment. You’re only tiring yourself out. Move, dance, flow; but don’t fight—it accomplishes nothing. Don’t contain; flow. Don’t lock anger into your head; move it all around you and direct it constructively. It’s the same with stress. Don’t put it in a box; let it flow like electric down every one of your nerves, out of your body and into the ground. Let it be the energy that pulls you closer to your goal. Let it be the magnetic force between your current position and your intended destination. Let it tie the moment to your wish.

Anger, stress, frustration, fatigue: each of these yield will. Fuel. Energy is the same anywhere. Electricity. Placed on the wrong path it can spark, burn and kill. The same electricity placed on the right path can work, build and create.

Electricity is no different from fire is no different from energy is no different from conscious action. You are delivering an intention to the world around you. The intention is not enough to clarify the wish; it is the action that follows which clarifies the wish and brings it to fruition. (i.e., the plug doesn’t turn the machine on, hitting the switch does; the match doesn’t start the fire, striking it does; the idea doesn’t make the change, living it does.)

This trick of the universe is that all circumstances are the same. Whether you’re in the Great Sandy Desert or a skyscraper in Manhattan, you have something to learn. Whether you’re a venerable guru or a pissed off adolescent, your circumstances are a framework to understanding what your life is all about. We write our own stories and give ourselves voices just as circumstances are given meaning by the eye that observes them.

Too much? Here’s the bottom line. We can choose to fear every moment in which we live, or we can choose to find an underlying wisdom in each one. I don’t know how long I’m going to be around, but I’d like to die clutching the latter path.

Pulling Down the Curtain

Like a monk in training.

I have this 6-foot cudgel that we couldn’t use for firewood because it was too green. I couldn’t even snap it by jumping up and down on it. It’s weighted pretty well, and though one end has a little bit of a jagged end, it works well as a quarter staff that’s just a little too heavy.

Too heavy is good. I figured this out when I started swinging it around and doing the little fist-spin that one does with a bo. After about twenty minutes of this, I was sweating and my arms ached. Hmm. Simple and fun upper body excercise. Great for agility and balance too. Swing a 6-foot 7-pound stick around and try to dodge your own momentum. Start flowing with the thing as if it was an extension of your own body.

After only a week, my work with the makeshift bo has gotten rather addictive. I used to do the same thing for hours at a time when I was 12 years old. It’s one of the things that taught me balance when I was still growing and clumsy about motility. Toss around a stick that’s bigger than you are.

Glow, another part of my monk in training story:

My hair has been in my face all winter. It was covering my eyes, and unless I used wax to hold it against my head, I was constantly looking through a veil of hair. When we finished the July issue, I had enough. I got home from work, grabbed two mirrors out of my room, a pair of Fiskars, and sat on the picnic table.

I looked at my face with the hair hanging down to my nose. Ick. How could I have let it grow this long? I had the scissors ready, but I balked. Was I really going to cut my hair? I had plenty of images come into my head while I wondered how I was going to look when I finished. I didn’t care. I wanted my hair out of my eyes.

The first couple of hacks left my eyes unshielded by the mop sitting on my crown. I could see the glow of my blue eyes again. When that happened, I started to relax again. After watching the sheer volume of hair fall onto the picnic table, I cut away, not worrying about how my head was going to look. The curtain was coming down.

After 40 minutes of trimming and evening the ends, I was satisfied. I cut my own hair, and it didn’t look half bad. In fact, I cut it to the length I wanted it. Not military short, but off of my forehead and out of the way for a good long time. It amazed me how cleansing the process was. I felt open. Weightless. I was free. Sometimes the healthiest actions come from the strangest decisions.

That impulse to get my hair out of my eyes was a great metaphor for seeing clearly.