Last night at my meditation group I got in a discussion about goalless practice. This is a Zen thing – the idea that the state you are in at this moment is perfect and goals imply that you are imperfect in this moment and that you need to somehow change.
This idea of not having a goal is crazy hard to grasp, especially being informed by Western, and even, American culture. Goals are such a huge part of who we are. Who am I if I don’t have goals? What kind of a person doesn’t have goals? A person who veers off in every direction. A person who has no focus. That seems like a crazy idea to me. I was born into a strict set of things I should strive for in my life. I am supposed to get married. I am supposed to be a homeowner. I am supposed to have a good job my entire life and then retire at age 65. These are the basic goals that have been instilled in me from the time I was born.
However, as I get older, I have been warming up to the idea of being goal-less. Indeed when I ask myself that common interview question “where do you see yourself in 5 years” I kind of draw a blank. In fact, that question kind of scares me a little. I like the idea of life taking me where it wants to take me. I think life is more exciting that way. I think that, if you let it, life will unfold in ways you will never expect, and they can be completely amazing beyond your imagination.
Lately I’ve been saying things to myself like, “Why don’t I read ‘The Heart Sutra‘ everyday and see what happens.” Or “What would happen if shot one large format pinhole photo everyday.” Basically doing these things to see what will come of it. I am naturally a very curious person and this kind of experimental living works well for me.
As a result, I have found myself more immersed in the moment, rather than focused on the outcome. And when I do notice an outcome from doing this “thing” everyday I am surprised and excited by what I’ve learned. The wisdom seems to bubble up from inside my heart somewhere, rather than it being all in my head. For example, the outcome of reading The Heart Sutra everyday has been that I have learned about self compassion – which has been what I’ve needed to learn about! The outcome of shooting a large format pinhole shot everyday was that I learned a ton about how my camera works.
So now I am thinking about how I can apply this to health goals. This might be harder. I have some specific things I want to do with regard to health. I want to lose some weight – at least 15 pounds. The sad thing is that I’ve been trying to lose this 15 pounds for a long time. It has been an elusive goal. So maybe it is time to let go of this goal. Maybe instead I should say, “what would happen if I went to the gym twice a week?” Or “What would happen if I ate a salad everyday for lunch?”
Embracing goalless practice when it comes to health might be harder to do…
My hands are trembling as I type this. I was out for my lunchtime walk and almost was hit by a car. I was crossing the street and the driver was turning left and wasn’t paying attention because he didn’t make any attempt to stop until I screamed and ran out of the way.
I made it to the corner and he stopped and I turned to him with a look of horror and yelled, “You almost hit me!! I was crossing the street! Jesus Fucking Christ!!” and he looked mortified but blew me off by waving his hands in a kind of “I’m Sorry gesture” and he drove away.
I kept on walking, very shaken, and then I had to stop on the sidewalk and cry because I don’t know what else to do with these feelings that bubble up to the surface when I am in this situation.
I have been hit by a car in the past and so am very sensitive about this and I am very unforgiving when I find myself in this situation. The last time this happened I decided the person needed to understand my feelings and I made it very clear to them, by yelling hysterically, that they could have killed me. Afterward I felt bad about doing that, along with feeling like an idiot for completely losing my cool.
This time I just walked away and cried. I am not sure I feel any better right now.
Rage and anger boil up to the surface regardless.
How can people be so completely oblivious?
How dare they?!?
I don’t know what to do with this anger that goes hand in hand with the terrifying fear I am also feeling.
Today I’m thinking about the tenuous nature of life and It is stirring up all kinds of feelings. I don’t know what to do with them. I guess I am just going to sit here with them. I want to grab a hold of something substantial, something concrete, and never let go. But that won’t work because things go away. So I am left with this feeling of the ground shifting beneath my feet and it scares me a little bit. A lot. It scares me a lot.
I’ve been working with fear for the past couple months.
At the end of August I saw a Facebook post in my neighboorhood watch group that a mountain lion cub was spotted sleeping in the middle of the path of a popular trail that winds through town. The cub was seen at around noon on a Friday. Well. We all know what it means when a baby is spotted. It means a mom isn’t far away. I recalled how that very morning I did my usual Friday Morning 4 mile run along that very trail, right around day break (when they are most active). I probably ran right past it.
I am very afraid of mountain lions. And I have reason to fear. They actually attack humans. I recall at least two news stories when I lived in California where a runner and a bike rider were killed by mountain lions. So yeah. It’s a rational fear.
Yet It was bugging me because, while it is something could could possibly happen I was really letting it get to me. I wondered if it went from being rational to irrational. Yes, there have been attacks on humans, but what, really, were my chances of getting attacked?
I tried running on parts of the trail, but the fear of getting attacked was so great that I ruined the relaxing nature of the run. I had to finish it on the street. Each time I would go out I would try to talk myself into running on the trail, but when I got to the trail head and saw the sign I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Finally, one Friday,about three weeks later, I woke up and I wasn’t afraid anymore. I didn’t wake up with that dread of fear. I decided that this was the day I would run on the trail again. So I did. And it felt good. Oddly, all of the signs were taken down, so apparently the threat moved on.
It makes me wonder if that fear I was feeling was my gut telling me to avoid the trail. Maybe primal instinct was keeping me off the trail while the mountain lions (it turns out it was a mother and 2 cubs) made their home there. And then when they left, so did my fear.
We went hiking with our pinhole cameras up at the Salmon River on Memorial Day weekend and the trail was a little more crowded than usual, thus, more people curious about the cameras we were using. Someone had left a baby’s bright pink shoe sitting on a rock at the trailhead and I instinctively decided to photograph it with my pinhole camera. As I was exposing the shot, a couple wandered up the trail and the woman asked me, “Why are you photographing the shoe?” The question took me by surprise because I didn’t have an answer. I don’t know why I did it. I just did it. My answer to her was completely idiotic. I think I said, “Oh we are just messing around.” And she said, “you are in a beautiful place for photography” and I said, “Yes it really is.” Weirdly, I felt like I was defending myself. I kind of had this weird nudge of anger.
As I hiked along and ranted to my husband obsessively about it for a few minutes I realized why her question bothered me. I think it bothered me because she asked “Why.” When people ask me about my camera I am very happy to obliged them. But the “why” question as it relates to creativity is odd. Why does anyone do anything? When you do something creative it is not done from that place in us where we are thinking intellectually. Creativity is more intuitive and instinctual. And I think the creative person inside of me resents having to defend her creative impulses.
Now that I have thought about it I know why I chose the shot: I liked the color contrast. I was using Ektar film (known for its saturation) and I liked the bright pink against the greens of the forest. I also liked the juxtaposition of the shoe in the natural environment. But saying all of this kind of takes the magic out of it, doesn’t it?
Camera: Terrapin Bijou
Film: Kodak Ektar 100
Exposure time: 10 seconds