Sunday, January 8, 2012

Good Life Win!

The reason I like the idea of aiming for a good life, rather than pursuing a merely happy life, is that a good life leaves room for complexity, depth, richness of flavors. It allows for those things that, while not happy, are still beautiful or good. It makes room for the reality that things can be profoundly unhappy without losing the thread of a good, solid, beautiful life. Emotions like grief and anxiety can still be a part of it. It's about what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the full catastrophe -- the whole earthly package of joy, pain, and everything in-between.

So yesterday, even though I got some troubling news about a family member, Redbeard and I proceeded as planned to our belated Christmas celebration, which consisted of a hike and dinner out.

Something about being out among the seasons, the sun rising and setting, things shaped not by human time but geologic time - mountains, rivers, streams - helps me relocate the perspective it's so easy for me to lose. Something about the way trees spring up, fight to grow, and outlast us makes me think that there's a logic to all of this, a bigger storyline than I can see by myself way down here in the field.

I am helped by remembering to enjoy one moment at a time. I am easily overwhelmed by my own ambitions. I want to see the world! Experience everything! Eat, drink, absorb it all right now! I want to see all my plans coalesce by yesterday. I hate that I will never be able to experience everything, everywhere ever.

It helps me to remember that I always have access to here and now. I may not be able to experience everything, but that's no reason not to experience what's right in front of me right now.

And often what's right in front of me can be downright spectacular, if I care to pay attention...

I'm reminded of a beautiful essay I read here, called The Summer of Our Content, by Forrest Church a Unitarian minister who talks about wanting what you have.

He writes about "deep and due appreciation for things we do have, things we would miss so desperately were they to be suddenly taken from us." Health, people, our senses, love.

For me, even though this is easy enough to understand intellectually, it took experiences of illness and loss to get get it. I remember the grandiose promises I made to the powers that be when I was in pain from ulcerative colitis, how if it would only start working right again I would truly honor my body, feed it only whole foods, live a wholesome life of exercise and vitamins, etc. etc,

I can't say I followed through particularly judiciously with that, and now that I feel fine again it's easy to take for granted the miracle of worry-free digestion taking place on a daily basis in my body. But sometimes I am still able to sit back in wonderment. (For example, Redbeard and I had our minds blown at Morimoto yesterday, where thanks to a Christmas gift certificate we were able to realize our long-time dream of dining at the establishment of our favorite Iron Chef.)

River of time, slipping away.

And then of course there was the skull-shattering loss this year of my cousin Alfred. I haven't even begun to reconcile that one. But among the many volumes of feelings I had about it, one was a feeling almost of desperation, to live and enjoy and appreciate and do as much as I can, while I can, and to do stuff I care about, not let my my time slip away unintentionally. I don't want to look up one day and find that I accidentally didn't do what I wanted in life because I got distracted by an article about Sarah Palin's hairstylist.

That's why yesterday was a great victory for me. It might've looked like just a walk in the woods, but to me it was an afternoon spent doing something that I would actually be glad to say that I did when my number gets called. 

The weather was mild and sunny. The air smelled mossy and damp. I love the woods in winter when views open up and the trees are naked and spindly. They always look like uplifted arms to me.

And yourself, fellow traveler? What aren't you taking for granted today?

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