“The Art of Seeing” by Michael Milton
Three days ago, I felt a suspicious shift in my body’s temperature. The next day, my throat was swollen and my voice–usually a somewhat commanding baritone– was diminished to the rasp of a nail file. Yesterday, I was finally able to convince my chords to come together and phonate over a small range. THAT feat was accompanied by a tiny burst of energy which I misinterpreted as recovery.
Come the evening, though, I stared listlessly at the computer screen, exhausted and achy. I finally ran up the white flag and retired to bed, watched over by my very sympathetic cat, Boots.
I shut out the world when I’m sick. I close windows, keep the curtains drawn, put the phone on vibrate and hope the fact I’m MIA from life goes unnoticed. From under my comforter, I HEAR the world rather than SEE it; trucks thundering by, an occasional approach and retreat of a fire engine siren, the shouting of kids just out of school, dogs barking, babies crying, the reverberating thump-thump of a passing car’s sound system.
LIFE is happening out there; and it all makes me anxious.
I’m not seeing it, I’m not a part of it, I’m missing out, I’m not getting ahead, my dreams are wasting, my goals are languishing, I’m a loser, I’m getting old, I’m a day closer to the grave and what do I have to show for my time here?… and on and on…
A sore throat is the least of the flu experience for me!
“Oh God,” I wonder nervously, “how will I ever catch up?”
Catch up with WHAT?
I know intellectually that the “WHAT” I think I need to catch up to isn’t ultimately worth the race. The “WHAT” is the burden New Age books having been calling upon us to transcend.
Lying here in bed I cagily think, “I understand all of that… still… later, I’ll “slow down and smell the roses;” later, I’ll “enjoy the journey as much as the achievement;” later, I’ll rest knowing “I’m “perfect right now!” So, when I’m feeling better, I’ll go out and strut and fret up and down the streets of New York for just awhile longer, conjuring up new ways of getting all MY stuff; MY dreams fulfilled, MY goals realized, MY new car in the garage of MY new condo– and THEN I’ll settle down, THEN I’ll be ready to slip into my perfect “ohmmmmm” of a world, having finally let go of all this reaching, striving, and needing.”
If you have read a couple of my columns, you already know that I’m a big proponent of “living in the now,” and my pieces are usually inspired by moments, when, for some magical reason, I have shifted from 3rd gear down to 1st and suddenly find myself cruising along the road of life a little more serenely than usual, taking in a bit more of those much advertised “sights.” And then I write about that experience as though that magical moment represents more of my life than it actually does.
It makes me feel like a fraud.
I had a lovely conversation with a Buddhist friend of mine recently. He seems to me to live more absolutely in his moment by moment experience. His moods are fluid; he doesn’t get stuck in one or the other; and no matter what his mood, there he is on his zafu meditating or teaching or out helping the sick and dying. His chase of the ubiquitous “WHAT” appears less desperate.
From my standpoint, it’s an incredibly scary way to live life. How will I get my stuff if I don’t feel panicked about it? I have attached many stories to my moods. I habitually linger in a mood long after that particular pity parade has passed by. If I’m “in a mood,” I can easily be blind to most anything around me– the tulips pushing up in the park, the breeze, a soprano’s voice floating out of some practice room window above me…
I can’t possibly take all that in. Don’t you see? I’m holding onto a mood!
But then, aren’t we ALWAYS in some kind of mood? What’s the point of holding onto one when another is surely coming up around the corner?
My Buddhist friend says, “Whether you’re healthy or not, appreciating life is only available one breath at a time. Life can’t happen all at once. Inhale, exhale. It’s easy and it’s hard. Be kind to yourself and be firm with yourself.”
He adds, “The WHAT you want to grasp ‘out there’ disappears on each inhale.”
The possibility that my mood will change (minus the stories!) with each next inhalation holds a real kind of magic for me.
I’m up now from my sickbed. I’m showered. And I’m feeling grumpy… inhale, exhale. Now, I feel relieved… inhale, exhale. Now, frightened… inhale, exhale. Now, enchanted…. inhale, exhale. A half hour later, I’m back to grumpy and sure that life is out to screw me. Wait! I can’t remember the last time I took a breath!
Now, frustrated…. inhale, exhale.
And so, I suppose, it goes.
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