On the way to our hike today, the kids and I drove up Route 97 in Maryland and I noticed how brown the leaves looked. This past week I’ve noticed more of the dark reds, and browns on the leaves, and I started to get upset that soon the branches will be bare. The time change, shorter days and coming home from a nice weekend away made me dread the upcoming winter so much so that I began decorating for Christmas to have something to look forward to. My boys and I met Maria at Patapsco State Park for a short hike to see the Swinging Bridge. We didn’t log the miles, and determined that the numbers really don’t matter anyway. What matters more is the time spent doing some exercise in nature. For the kids, they played “Minecraft in real life” and sang a song they made up about sausage. Maria and I discussed how draining the week was on us, developments in our personal lives, and explored the concepts of reality and death.
As we began our walk towards Cascade Falls trail via the Morning Choice trail, I noticed how many of the leaves were still a pale green, and in the forest many of the tree leaves were still yellow and had not yet browned and falled. I realized that going back to September I had been looking at the foliage and dreading the inevitable bear branches and the shortest days of the year. For most of my life fall was my favorite season. As a New Englander, I loved watching the colors change, appreciated the cooler weather and looked forward to sweater weather. But for the past few years, instead of appreciating what was in front of me, I have dreaded what came next. Taking in the lighter shades of foliage today, I remembered that each season brings joy, even in January 2021, when the path we walked on today was covered in ice, it was freezing and there was no green to be found anywhere, I was laughing my ass off and having a great time.
As I listened to my boys play “Minecraft IRL” as they called their imaginary game, I reflected on our concepts of reality. I have spent the last several weeks dreading what’s coming up. My official divorce should be coming soon, and I am happy that this will finally be behind me, but as that approaches my ex is getting nastier and meaner to me. I have grown weary of his derogatory text messages, his constant threats to not pay child support and then complete lack of communication about co-parenting things that actually have to be discussed. Similar to my children playing an imaginary game, based on a video game but called “in real life,” I need to stop the anxious anticipation that’s in my head that I have labeled “reality.” I can ignore hurtful words, delete pejorative texts and enjoy the wonderful moments of reality, because those far out-weigh the bad. During our hike, I told Maria about the word Avidya, which I was introduced to in Michael Easter’s The Comfort Crisis. He writes, “That’s a Sanskrit word that means having a misunderstanding of the true nature of your reality and the truth of your impermanence. ‘Most Americans are unaware of how good you have it, and so many of you are miserable and chasing the wrong things.’” I have been guilty of awfulizing lately. Rather than enjoying what is in front of me, I have allowed too much of my mental real estate to go to the worst case scenarios.
The part in The Comfort Crisis that talks about Avidya is about how the Bhutanese are one of the the happiest cultures. As a culture, they think about death, often. It is part of their national curriculum, and they “death is part of everyday life. Ashes of the dead are mixed with clay and molded into small pyramids, called tsa tsas, and placed along heavily trafficked areas like roadsides, in window sills, and public squares and parks. Bhutanese arts often center around death; paintings of vultures picking the flesh from corpses, dances that reenact dying.” My kids were the ones that brought up death on our hike, but it’s been on my mind lately. I want to be ok with death, I really do, but I am not. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few years ago, and he has many years left but the harsh reality is that both of my parents are now in their seventies. Anytime I think about his disease or either of my parents’ aging process, I feel a pain so deep rise from my stomach and grab ahold of my throat. The Portuguese have the perfect word for this sadness- saudade which roughly translates to sadness that is mixed with nostalgia and a longing for something you once had that you can never get again. My youngest has recently become fascinated by death. As up front as I was with them about sex, death is something I struggle to talk to them about, although it shouldn’t be. Developmentally, they are both at an age where their concept of death is more of that of an adult, and there is less magical thinking. Yet, “Even though there is a cognitive awareness of death and its universality and finality, there is a strong tendency towards denial.” (source). On this hike, I talked to them about the concept of a soul and how that never dies. I was telling them words that wouldn’t comfort me. So I googled how to overcome “avidya” because I am obviously in a bit of a funk and lost in projecting too far out, and longing for the past and this is what I found, “The Yoga Sutras suggest these methods: Yogic asanas and breathing exercises. Self-examination through meditation. Spiritual detachment from and observation of one’s actions. (source)”
I love the word “just.” The song “Breathe” got stuck on repeat recently when I was with Maria and the refrain repeats “just breathe” many times. When I am overwhelmed, I often tell myself to “just be.” In writing this I Googled the word “just.” The closest meaning to how we use it, is “exactly.” Exactly breathe, exactly be. What does that even mean? Well, to me exactly being would be doing what I am doing exactly as I am. If I feel something I’m doing isn’t right, I will feel guilty and from there I can choose to learn from that guilt and not repeat those actions. Similarly, “just” can also mean “behaving according to what is morally right and fair,” which reminds me of these powerful words from Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday:
“The work we must do next is less cerebral and more spiritual. It’s work located in the heart and in the soul, and not in the mind. Because it is our soul that is the key to our happiness (or our unhappiness), contentment (or discontent), moderation (or gluttony), and stillness (or perturbation). That is why those who seek stillness must come to …
- Develop a strong moral compass.
- Steer clear of envy and jealousy and harmful desires.
- Come to terms with the painful wounds of their childhood.
- Practice gratitude and appreciation for the world around them.
- Cultivate relationships and love in their lives.
- Place belief and control in the hands of something larger than themselves.
- Understand that there will never be “enough” and that the unchecked pursuit of more ends only in bankruptcy.
Our soul is where we secure our happiness and unhappiness, our contentment or emptiness – and ultimately determine the extent of our greatness.
We must maintain a good one. “