Leaving the Desert with These Thoughts

I did not take home with me any new goals or resolutions. But I did leave the desert with some thoughts — “things I think” — some of which are new, some of which are simply clearer or less contingent than they were before my time alone in the desert. Here are a few:

  • It’s not enough. I’m not enough. Those are my demons. That’s not new; I knew that before going to the desert. I also knew, from what I see in the world around me, those demons are everywhere; they are not mine alone. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Demons can be defeated. But I’m realizing they cannot be defeated with knowledge or willpower. They can be defeated only by removing the false ideas that protect and nourish them. And by wresting control of thoughts from them. Through awareness. Acceptance. Truth (reality). Seizing control of my mind.
  • The meaning I sought does not exist. The meaning that is available is that which I create; or perhaps more accurately, allow to be created.
  • Nothing is dependent upon anything eternal; nothing and no one outside of me needs to change. The world cannot be fixed. But I can change. And with that change, the sun can be brighter; the sky, bluer. Yet I cannot seek change or try to will it because such efforts would fail; they always have. If change is to come, it will come with awareness and mindfulness. And perhaps from things and in ways I don’t and never will fully understand.
  • Removal of the things that distort the lens through which I see and experience life — the barriers and obstructions, the false ideas, illusions, delusions, and unrealistic expectations — is essential. Deconstruction. Removal. Awareness. This I can do.
  • Finding and being mindful of the root causes of suffering is essential. Suffering should be considered an alarm; it should alert me to distortions in my lens.
  • Cede power to no one. Nor to any idea, action, or delusion. Care not about what anyone else thinks. About anything. But care about the person.
  • Be totally truthful in all things. Don’t lie (not even little white lies or lies intended to spare someone else’s feelings). Similarly, welcome the truthfulness of others; take no offense or hurt. Take no offense at their lies either, for surely many will come. They know not what they do.
  • Do not complain. It distorts the lens and misleads me into thinking my well-being is dependent upon something or someone.
  • Do not think about what I don’t have or what I haven’t done or achieved. If I think it matters, look up (when the moon is new and where there is little or no light pollution).
  • Desire nothing. Expect nothing. Instead of asking, why me? Ask, why not me?
  • Relish the gifts and wonder. They are everywhere. If I fail to see them, it is not because they aren’t there; it is because my lens is cloudy.
  • Be still. My mind needs time without distractions — not only external ones, but also (and more especially) the internal ones. Meditate. Return to the desert if necessary. Or to other places of solitude.
  • Be mindful and present, no matter how trivial or insignificant the activity or interaction seems.
  • Observe myself, too. I am not my thoughts. Step outside of my mind. Refuse to be hostage to my thoughts.

In sum:

Peace, contentment, happiness, and meaning lie in wait within; our natural state is happiness and contentment. They are mine provided I do not allow any illusion, fear, or belief to hold them hostage. Free them. But seek not these things; rather, focus on ridding myself of the things that obscure and imprison them.

Those were some my thoughts. As I departed …

the desert.

(See these prior posts for more on my time in the desert. Leaving and Days One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.)

Another Lost War

The U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan for 17 years, the longest war in our nation’s history. Yet the Taliban, our adversary, is stronger than it’s ever been since the American invasion. By now it’s clear to all but those wearing rose-colored glasses that America has lost another war. It just refuses to admit it. So it will spend billions more and suffer who knows how many more casualties before eventually conceding defeat. Just like Vietnam (although with fewer American casualties). Continue reading

Broken by the World. Isn’t Everyone?

In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”

Young people often fail to understand Hemingway’s words. But age tends to reveal that which was previously hidden. With age comes a realization that Hemingway was right.

For most of my life, I didn’t feel broken. But that changed. I won’t get into all the ways it changed here. Or when. Suffice it to say the world broke me. Continue reading

The Day Death Chose Not to Stop

I remember hearing the sound of a violent crash. The next thing I knew, I awoke, only to see a spidered windshield and deformed car door pressing against me. Concussion-induced amnesia stole from me (perhaps protected me from) other memories adjacent to the collision.

I do recall emergency personnel being on site, but don’t recall being extricated from the car or loaded into the ambulance. Vera, I remember calling your grandmother from the ambulance because I was concerned she’d go to the airport to meet me as planned. But I don’t recall sending an email and photo to her and your dad and uncle, although later I was presented with proof that I had. It was an odd thing to have done.

I recall arriving at the trauma center, the hall lined on both sides with medical personnel anticipating my arrival. Once on the table, I recall someone struggling to remove my wedding ring, to no avail. I recall suggesting lubricant. It worked.

I recall someone cutting off all my clothes. And I remember a doctor examining my spine for injury. I especially recall the intense pain as I was rolled on my side as they checked for internal hemorrhaging.

I’m sure there had to be more, but that’s all I remember, until being moved for CT scans. A short time later, I recall the excruciating pain as technicians endeavored to move me into position for x-rays.

Twelve hours later, after IV drips, pain meds, more tests, sutures, a failed attempt to set a bone, and a splint being plastered on me, I was discharged, barely able to walk but one lucky guy.

Reflecting on this day later, the thing that stood out for me, through it all — the trauma, pain and vast unknowns — is that I hadn’t experienced a single moment of fear.

It wasn’t a matter of courage. It was more like an act of grace. And peace.

Beginning with the moment I regained consciousness to the present, I have been experiencing an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and the feeling that death had passed by on that road, but for reasons I’ll never know, decided not to stop.

The paramedic remarked that I probably would not have survived if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. When looking at the crushed metal from my captive, scrunched position inside the car, and later when viewing a photo of the exterior of the car, I knew that it took more than the seatbelt to save me that morning and, at the very least, the injuries could have been much, much worse.

I’m healing now, as are the occupants of the other vehicle, who remain in my constant thoughts and prayers.

Yesterday afternoon, we picked you up from your school, Vera. I couldn’t lift you up to put you in the car seat, and I think you’re wondering why I have so many boos-boos and a strange thing on my arm. But it doesn’t seem to matter to you. And it doesn’t matter to me, either.

Today, I will be wheeled into an operating room for back-to-back surgeries. Bone stuff — nothing life threatening. And then I will get to know my oral surgeon and dentist even better. There are worse ways to spend time.

Along this short, intense journey, I’ve encountered people of compassion, ranging from health care professionals, taxi and shuttle drivers, airlines personnel, strangers who offered assistance at the airport, friends from Colorado extending their arms 1,000 miles, family and others.

I also encountered some people who weren’t helpful or, worse yet, were actively unhelpful. But I’m just going to pretend I didn’t.

Some people say they’re sorry. I don’t say it (because I appreciate their concern), but what I’m thinking is, “For what?” 

There have been times in my life that I’ve felt sorry for myself. But this hasn’t been one of them.

I used to close letters and emails (and sometimes still do) to certain people with the words, “Peace and grace to you.”

This past week, the words returned home to me.