Monday, February 03, 2014

the zen-ish moment

Many years ago, I discovered what I think of as the travel mindset. Getting packed and ready to go may be a frantic mess, but once you get to the airport and get in line to check in, you let all the travel anxiety go. You just insert yourself into the travel system and let the system take care of you.

Like everybody, I have some travel horror stories to tell, like the time I got stuck in Salt Lake City for three days while trying to get back home from a weekend trip to California. But horror stories aside, for the most part, you get where you need to go. You just have to have a good book (or three) and some food (granola bars, bag of nuts, etc), and you're set. Well, if you're me, you also have to have some dramamine, but you get the idea.

I look at it as a completely acceptable, valid excuse to sit and read all day. Sometimes I wander around the airport, see what's there, buy a magazine or a cheesy souvenir. Over the years, this has worked out so well that now the travel day--which I used to dread--is one of my favorite parts of vacation.

Of course it helps that I'm not travelling with toddlers anymore. Thank the saints and all the stars. Although it does help, even with kids. I first started trying this out when MadMax was 3 or 4, and even though I would still worry about entertaining him, I could let go of everything else--what if we miss our flight, what if they lose our bags, what if, what if, WHAT IF?? --> all of that stuff, which I am fairly expert at, you can just let go.

I've discovered that something similar works at the post office. Not always, because standing in line at the post office is right up there in my list of things that might be described as hell on earth, but usually I can just relax and stand there in line and not worry about how long it's taking. Sometimes I chat with complete and utter strangers (like many introverts, I find it easier to make small talk with strangers than with people I know).

I'm finding as I play with this idea that those moments of calm can occur anywhere, anytime. I think of it as zen calm, but since I've never seriously undertaken zen discipline, it may not be very close. Zen-ish, then. In the midst of traffic, waiting to pick up the kid at school, any time I'm in a situation that is out of my control, if I just give in to it, let go of the need to be in control, I can reach a sort of calm stillness. (I typed clam stillness first, which is possibly different than what I mean, but I bet clams live a pretty zen life.)

I've never experienced true enlightenment, I don't think. When I think of capital-E Enlightenment, Elizabeth Gilchrist's phrase from Eat, Pray Love comes to mind: she says she was "catapulted into the lap of God." As I said when I reviewed it, I didn't care for that book, but that phrase stuck in my head. A moment of perfect bliss, feeling like you are connected to everything and everything is connected to you, suffused by light and love-- I've never been there.

But sometimes these little pockets of zen-ish calm at an airport or in the post office lead to a kind of enlargement of consciousness, a feeling of accessing something beyond myself (see previous post about spirituality). Especially when I'm reading. And those moments .... oh, let's just say they make up for a lot of other moments of confusion, fear, anguish, etc.

I typed that much on Friday, plus a lot more that I just cut and put in another post that will probably appear on Thursday, and then let it sit over the weekend in accordance with my new plan to let things stew a few days before I click publish. Then last night I had one of those other moments, maybe you have them, maybe you don't, where I get tangled up in a load of crap. I sent an e-mail to a family group and got back a bunch of very sneering, negative vibes--which may have been real, or may have been my projection of things I've felt in the past, I don't know which and it doesn't really matter. I started to panic about my new class, which starts tonight. I had a strange experience at the grocery store yesterday afternoon which didn't really register at the time but came back full force.

So there I was at about 12:30 a.m. last night, letting myself get buried under this load of self-contempt and self-criticism. It's a hell of a lot harder to try to find zen-ish calm under those circumstances than it is while you're reading a book at DIA. But I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently, so I tried. And it helped. I don't think I got to zen calm, but I got back to the point where I could go to sleep.

Work in progress.


  1. I like this. Zen-ISH moments. Sounds less intimidating.

    I hate it when I send an email and get responses back that feel negative. And sometimes it is just people writing quick and not being thoughtful about what they say.

    Sometimes family is just ... family, Friends have to be nice, otherwise they aren't friends. But families don't have to be anything to still be family.

    1. yes, like toddlers-- they're at their worst with their parents because they know they can.