I’m About As Good As I’m Going To Get
Ten years ago, almost to the day, this was what I announced to anyone inquiring about New Year’s Resolutions. It wasn’t even original; I think I heard it from Jack Nicholson first. I was definitely hoping that I would get better but after 10 (or so) years of chronic anemia I was pretty exhausted. I couldn’t even run faster than my 6 yr old grand daughter, aka ‘The First Best Girl in the Whole Wide World’. There was so little oxygen carrying hemoglobin in my blood that walking up a flight of stairs left the heart racing and lungs gasping. Blood transfusions were paradise inducing elixirs. As the thick, warm, bright burgundy blood infused, the sludge diffused and the world again began to feel more unearthly than real. Colors and details were surprises, again. The brain began processing better and the muscles ceased their spasms and screams of ‘need oxygen’.
Fortunately, my family conducted a series of interventions to get me to see a different physician and, finally and with supreme effort, I made an appointment. In my defense, I wasn’t a nurse yet. But within the space of one appointment and a follow-up consult, the new physician had diagnosed the problem and we were discussing solutions. Problem solved. But ten years ago, and the ten years leading up to it, I believed that I would not get better.
Secrets to Success and Positive Mental Attitude
As I flit around the ‘self-help’ sections of book stores and libraries and catalogues and Internet, I remain awed by the sustainability of the genre. Don’t get me wrong, I think maintaining a positive mental attitude is a good thing. What I cannot reconcile, however, is the notion that we can be whatever we want to be. You know, all the instructions on how to become a millionaire in ten days, or an Olympic athlete. Well, there is no way I’m going to be a gymnast or a ballerina, the daughter of a ga-zillionaire or Sophia Loren; it is just not in the cards. Therefore, instead of trying to be someone else…
#1 – Know Yourself = Humility One of the harshest lessons I’ve ever had to learn is that one cannot be humble alone. Dictionary definitions are a pretty good place to see how our culture defines concepts. So here’s Humility, et al: “the quality of being humble; humble: lowly, unpretentious; to lower in condition or rank; to lower in pride, make modest; and… having or showing an awareness of one’s defects.” Positive mental attitude, alone, promotes a healthy sense of self-respect into self-aggrandizement and a healthy sense of humility into abasement. Granted, these are the extremes and, as in all things there needs to be balance. And so, in studying humility, and trying to know myself, I learned that Humility is “seeing oneself in right relationship to everyone and everything else”; it is accepting who I am and owning it. It has nothing to do with less dignity, or with behaving like a dish-cloth. It has everything to do with knowing our own strengths and limitations. It has everything to do with knowing what we can change and what we cannot, and appreciating the difference. It has everything to do with being engaged with the world, nature, and people because one cannot be humble alone.
#2 – Get Outside Yourself and, Yes, even hermits travel. Even we wannabes, as we crave the cave of solitude know we must learn how to mingle, at least. Pico Iyer in “The Long Road To Sitting Still” reminds us that “…monks travel, precisely, to remind themselves of the importance of alertness…Physical movement is not in itself important, but it can be a catalyst…to be moved or taken out of yourself is one of the easiest ways of jolting oneself awake and free of habits and assumptions. Look outside your window, walk outside your room…” And notice what’s going on, inside and outside. What is our relationship to our service providers, clients, fellow travelers? Be open to that which is new.
#3 – We Only Have This Moment Yes, and we can say “No” to the Twinkie this moment, and this moment, and this moment or we can choose to do something else this moment. Each moment is an opportunity to choose the ‘better’ choice. Rather than focusing on the pounds I want to lose, many moments down the road, I can choose to do what’s better now and let the consequences of my choosing happen; The Paradoxical Commandments, if you will.
One of the great pilgrimage stories in any tradition, surely, is The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. At the very dawn of his Zen studies, Matthiessen goes, with a professional zoologist, to count the cats in Inner Dolpo and to set eyes on one of the world’s rare and elusive creatures. But he’s also traveling, we soon realize, to see through the folly of such a venture (for him, not a professional zoologist). He’s traveling to look past the delusions of travel, to come face to face with the world and the memory of the young wife he’s just lost to cancer, so easily sidestepped if he were to stay at home. He’s traveling to see how the Buddhism that he’s beginning to learn about instructs and guides those born to the tradition; he’s traveling into isolation and high altitudes to confront his own anger and restlessness and spiritual ambition. (Tricycle 12/21/13 Daily Dharma)
“In one sense we are always traveling,” Thomas Merton wrote, “traveling as if we did not know where we are going. In another sense we have already arrived.” The lives of each of us, the Buddha was saying on his path, are a journey toward recognizing where we’ve been all along.
Eat, Drink and Merry…
Share generously, set good intentions with integrity, be patient and steadfast, be courageous with joyous perseverence, remain alert and Mindful, for tomorrow you may die. My it be a Mindful Dying, with a Heart as Light as a Feather.