Some days I feel like I've haven't learned anything about life. Other days, like today, I sense some sort of semi-coherent message in disparate events -- with some sort of being a pointer toward my basic cluelessness.
Which, of course, won't stop me from attempting to describe what today taught me. (If bloggers only wrote about what they were sure of, the blogosphere would become a word-vacuum.)
This morning I picked up a book I'd read a while back, "The Untethered Soul." Thumbing through the pages, I came across some highlighted passages that elicited a yes in my psyche.
Billions of things could happen that you haven't even thought of yet. The question is not whether they will happen. Things are going to happen. The real question is whether you want to be happy regardless of what happens. The purpose of your life is to enjoy and learn from your experiences. You were not put on Earth to suffer. You're not helping anyone by being miserable. Regardless of your philosophical beliefs, the fact remains that you were born and you are going to die. During the time in between, you get to choose whether or not you want to enjoy the experience.
Learn to live as though you are facing death at all times, and you'll become bolder and more open. If you live life fully, you won't have any last wishes. You will have lived them every moment. Only then will you have fully experienced life and released the part of you that is afraid of living. There is no reason to be afraid of life.
You have to understand that it is your attempt to get special experiences from life that makes you miss the actual experience of life. Life is not something you get; it's something you experience. Life exists with or without you. It has been going on for billions of years. You simply get the honor of seeing a tiny slice of it. If you're busy trying to get something, you will miss the slice you're actually experiencing.
Later, I headed for my MacBook laptop to check out what was happening in the big wonderful world of the Internet. Google Reader showed me the latest post of Rain, another Oregon blogger.
She wrote about energy, openness, being aware. And shared an image with some adapted lines of a Mary Oliver poem, "The Summer Day."
The poem actually ends with...
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Well, that was an easy question to answer. It was 60 degrees. No rain in sight. I had to mail some letters, give 2009 tax info to our CPA, go to downtown Salem for my Tai Chi class.
The plan for my one wild and precious life was obvious: Scooter ride!
Some people (otherwise known as "my wife") call my purchase of the world's largest scooter, a Suzuki Burgman 650, a manifestation of a mid-life crisis. I only wish. Since I'm close to becoming eligible for Social Security, I see it more as an end-of-life crisis.
Regardless, mundane errands turn into fun on two motorized wheels.
As soon as I put on my gear, fired up the Burgman, and turned onto the two lane country road that, after six miles, would get me to the Salem city limits, I felt much more alive.
Like Mary Oliver said, I do know how to pay attention.
We all do. We just often lose sight of what life has placed right in front of us. The mind wanders. Perceptions get split between all our multi-taskings.
On a scooter or motorcycle, attention comes front and center -- because the rider knows that if his or her awareness isn't mindful of all the cars and other possible dangers (deer, dogs, potholes, oily spots, etc. etc.), the fall down Oliver speaks of won't be pleasantly voluntary.
I parked on Court Street. Backed my scooter into a diagonal space in front of a beauty school.
Three female students were shooting the breeze, and blowing cigarette smoke, on a bench a few feet away from where I was stowing my helmet and jacket under the seat, replacing the backpack that I carry my Tai Chi shoes in.
One of the girls looked at me after my jacket was off. "Hey, I've got that exact same shirt! It's cool. I love the design, the trees." "Me too," I said. "My wife got it for me." "Must have been Fred Meyer," the girl told me.
We agreed that we both had excellent clothing taste: long-sleeved black 100% cotton, made in India, semi-Goth (in a New Age'y way) gray nature design.
I shared a thought, though: "Since young people mostly wear this sort of shirt, I've worried a bit that some kid who has one will see me, an old guy, with it on and decide that he can never wear his again."
But then I added, "Old is just a frame of mind, though. We're as old as we feel, right?" The girl agreed, saying, "Yeah, I'm thirty. Physically I'm more like thirty-four. Inside, however, I feel seventeen. So I'm never going to die!"
My logical male mind quickly ran through some responses. Hmmmm. If she felt mentally half as old as she felt physically, then if she lived to be 100, she'd feel 50. Or did she mean that she'd always feel like she was seventeen?
I settled on, "Well, at least you won't die mentally. Physically, I wouldn't count on that." Eyeing my longish hair, the girl asked if I was headed for a beauty school haircut. "No, sorry. I've got to get to my Tai Chi class."
She said she'd watch my "bike" for me. It was nice to make a connection with someone a lot unlike me, and also a lot like me. I also feel seventeen much of the time. Hope I always will.
In Tai Chi one of the themes was staying centered. Which doesn't mean fixed in place.
Just the opposite. When you have your center, you can move in any direction. Tai Chi speaks of "eight directions," N, S, E, W and the four directions in between those quadrants.
But really there's a limitless number of directions.
In Tai Chi, as in dance, as in life, we can move so many ways. It all depends on circumstances and what we want to do. Physically, perhaps we are constrained by a bad hip, arthritis, or some other impediment.
Mentally, any limitation largely is of our own making. We're free to plan what we want to do with our one wild and precious life. And then, to do it. Question is: what "it"?
The older I get, the longer I've lived, the less important this rather than that seems. I mean, I used to feel that living life fully meant doing something big, grand, earthshaking, monumental. I wanted to change the world, or at least Oregon, or at least my neighborhood.
Mary Oliver wrote a poem about holding a grasshopper.
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
That's life too. Feeding a grasshopper sugar out of one's hand. With attention. With awareness.
I love how I feel the bumps in the road while riding my scooter. How smells enter my helmet in ways unknown to car drivers. How coming to a stop isn't merely a matter of braking with one foot, but involves both hands and feet, four appendages working together to bring me to a balanced state of centered rest, after which a twist of the throttle means I now can go -- any way.
Scootering home today, coming over the last large hill on Liberty Road, I saw two lights close together approaching. A motorcycle. We were the only vehicles on the road. He extended his hand in the motorcycle wave as we passed, as did I.
For some reason (there's that clueless some sort of again) I felt deeply moved at our gestures. Two helmeted strangers passing each other at fifty miles an hour on a beautiful rural Oregon road, a brief extension of our left hands bridging the gap between us in some fashion I can't describe.
As did Mary Oliver's poem. And Rain's blog post. And the smoking beauty parlor student's comment on the shirt we had in common. And my Tai Chi teacher's thoughts on centering.
I don't know what's going on. I don't know what life is all about. But I learned something today. I just don't know what it is.