Wednesday, July 15, 2009

At Last, A Moment of Peace

Today is a non-clinic day, and my only appointment this morning was a no-show, so things are quiet. The doctor and I are going to be driving to Nashville (in separate cars, so I can listen to my own music!) to give a talk on the clinic and try to get referrals. She's hinted that I'll be going home early! And One Ring has suggested that, being that the temp's hitting the mid 90s today, a trip to the ice cream shop may not be out of the question. Life's simple pleasures are sometimes the best.

We're down to three days until vacation - or "two days and a wake-up" as One Ring puts it. Last night she told me that she was worried that I was putting so much energy into anticipating this trip that I was bound to be disappointed if it was less than perfect. She was also worried about the possibility of my being incredibly depressed upon my return to the chaos of my workplace.

All of which brings to mind a major tenet of Zen thought ...

One Ring's concern that I am too focused on vacation and therefore will be disappointed echoes the second of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, namely that suffering is caused by craving, or attachment, to ideas of how things "should be." The idea here is that our brains create an artificial reality, usually mentioned in texts as an illusion. When the illusion does not match reality, negative emotions are produced and experienced.

In terms of the upcoming Disney trip, One Ring is correct in assuming that I have created a mental image of how events are going to play out: small crowds in the parks, everything running smoothly, children behaving, sunshine constantly, low humidity, and cool temps. Obviously, none of these things are going to happen. It's Florida, after all, and summertime! One of our guidebooks puts the crowd levels at 8 or 9 out of 10 for every day we're going to be there. Plus Florida is famous for its afternoon thunderstorms. Tigger and Pooh were there a few weeks ago, and it rained nonstop for 8 out of the ten days they were there.

And I won't even get into the odds of overstimulated children behaving on their first trip to Disney World!

So if I hold on to my illusion of a perfect vacation, I am doomed to suffer. There is no way that I will be happy on this trip if I think everything will work out without a glitch. Now the way I used to cope with upcoming events like this was to follow the teaching of my family, which was, "Plan for the worst. Hope for the best." Trouble is, in planning for the worst case scenario - which would be something like being stuck in a hotel with a 7 and 3 year old as a hurricane shuts down the parks! - I would be also creating an illusion, one in which everything goes wrong. Now I may be happily surprised when something goes right for a change, but I'm still expecting horrible things to happen - illness, injuries, stolen items, lost children, and the like. And that brings yet another type of suffering, because I'm attached to the idea of negative occurances. Make sense?

My understanding of the Eightfold Path is that in order to avoid this trap which we all fall into - even if we know the trap is there - is to work to keep a clear mind and take reality as it comes. Using the example of my upcoming trip, I should attempt to keep my mind clear of anticipations, hopes, fears, and opinions. And that is certainly not easy! As One Ring will attest, I have a very short fuse when it comes to being jostled by crowds, people cutting in line ahead of me, and so forth. But if I can remain centered and unattached to desired outcomes, as I work to accept reality for what it is - neither good nor bad, but simply what it is - then the trip should be free of suffering.

Obviously, that is the goal here (and I do note that by saying "goal" I am even now, yet again, attaching myself to a desired outcome! Told you this stuff was hard!). Now I get to see if it is possible to pull off.

As a side note: Tigger is screaming for a "do over," for his trip that occurred during a freak monsoon season. Again, attachment to desired outcomes breeds suffering.

Lunch time is coming up, then I'm off to Nashville.


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