We had a couple handfuls of Orzo pasta left before we were completely out of food.
I was lost in the deep recesses of Tarahumara country, Las Barrancas del Cobre. The rivers were high, so our planned route was impassable and we'd had to go off trail. We'd made the foolish choice to climb up something we couldn't get back down, and couldn't turn back, so we'd continued on. We'd hiked for 5 days so far, trying to make our way -- somewhere -- or find someone.
We'd planned for a 3 day trip, and our food supplies were decimated. I was trying to ration the last bits of Orzo pasta, and then, ironically, our stove broke, making it all the more complicated. My faith broke too, and I dipped into soul-wrenching anxiety, wondering if the jig was up. This is how it ends, I thought.
Life is a wisp of a thing.
I was so worried about whether we'd starve and die down there. Worried I'd never see my mom again. Worried it was my fault somehow; hubris. My head was a mess. I was mad at Muka (my boyfriend) that he wasn't worried enough, that he hadn't wanted to ration our food sooner. I couldn't focus. Multiple times, I lost my balance. My feet were like anvils I was dragging around. I couldn't get any energy into them because I was just gripped.
I wore a 40 lb pack, and the canyon country is steep and unforgiving, and we were often climbing faces I was really not trained for, which is something one should not do without one's wits about them.
I really hit bottom that day and thought I was done for.
That night, I laid beneath a stunning symphony of stars exploding into grace above. I could see the beauty, but I couldn't feel it. I was so locked in my fear. I realized how much of a safety net I usually had and how entitled I'd been about that, how much I'd taken for granted. There was really no one to turn to now. No one would come to our aid.
Then, for some completely unknown reason, the fear broke like a damn, and I realized that I was an animal, like everybody else, and that I would not die of hunger.
I could forage, I could fish, I could even kill something -- and I would -- to stay alive. I realized I could figure that piece out; I was willing. I realized there was plenty of water; I would not die of thirst. I realized that if I were to die down there, I would die from lack of focus. Most probably, I would die from falling. The biggest risk by a significant margin was my own clumsiness, which was a direct outcome of being lost in my head. The mental fetters - the absorption in stories - this was the principal thing that could kill me.
Such a universally applicable realization.
I realized that night that it was really up to me. Did I love this life enough to take it on directly, day by day, step by step? I had such a long track record of being an undercover control freak. Could I surrender my anxieties and my victimhood and just deal, if life literally depended on it?
I know you can relate to this. This choice, whether we realize it or not, is a daily affair. In a sense, it's a lot easier to wake up when our life feels like it's dangling by a thread. Any idiot can rise to a crisis, but when we are just in the day-to-day, the choice to rise up and live is much less insistent.
The decision is right in front of you all the time, however: You can drift into the incredible seduction of life inside the walls of your own mind, or you can let go and release your energy into the flow of this life we cannot control.
I remember that in the bible there is something about worry being a sin. In the dharma the tone is very different, but the message is the similar. Suffering is a conversation in the mind, driven by the habit of grasping (Buddhism) or by forgetting that this 'individual' you take yourself to be is not really so individual at all (Non-dual Shaiva Tantra).
So if we want to choose IN, if we want to choose life, we get to loosen up the conversations in our heads, and get back into THIS, what's here right now, the "such-ness" of it. That is where life happens. Here. I'm not suggesting you should choose to Be Here Now because there is a punishing God who will strike you down if you worry. There are no hard and dried consequences. That said, fear, self-absorption, and the incredible desire to control everything will never carry us to freedom.
Taking refuge in our own deep awakeness sounds so good, so full of sweetness and light, but it's actually about being willing to watch the mind wanting to control, and noticing the futility of it. The resistance is so thick sometimes. We are like 5 year olds clutching the lollipop - fighting tooth and nail to keep things our way. My teacher used to say, "Almost nobody wants to grow up," because growing up is about realizing that it has nothing to do with the lollipop. It has to do with the addiction to self, and the deep old habit of control.
Meanwhile, while you spend your energy busying about in your fancy little thoughts, your foot can slip, you can plummet down the canyon wall, and somebody else gets to eat that day!
That Copper Canyon story actually ended well, and we got saved. (It's kind of a wonderful story: all about generosity and intention and a bit of ineffable magic, but it's not exactly the point of this email. I'll email you about that another time. Reply to this message if you want to hear it!)
This email is just about the preciousness of being here. It's about waking up to the preciousness, by hook or by crook, not because our lives depend upon it, per se, but just because. That's what they mean by "practice as if your hair were on fire." PRACTICE as if you actually, REALLY could feel the immediate consequences of every time you say YES to life and every time you say 'meh.' How might we then live?
I know all about how hard it is to get to an unequivocal YES. You might have a nasty boss, or a work deadline, or an unresolved conflict with your partner, or an ache that things haven't quite turned out as you'd envisioned. Some pebble in your proverbial shoe.
Yet, every experience has to wade through the ecosystem of your own inner conversation in order to get to YOU. That's what sloppy teachings like "you create your own reality" or "you sourced this" are trying to get at. Experience ricochets against the walls of your skull and gets your whole narrative spinning. The life you experience arises within the conversation inside your mind. So if that conversation is not TENDED to, well... That spells trouble.
So if we are IN, it means we call ourselves forth into grokking the such-ness beyond the realms of mind. Being HERE, where we can turn our attention to what is beautiful and real, we experience what is beyond the conversation: Determination, willingness, gratitude. All the good stuff. The everything.
I'll talk next time about the art of tuning attention and understanding better the stories that plague us, so we can burn through to the other side.
Meanwhile - keep your feet on the ground. Be nimble and quick. Step towards awakening again and again. Take the armor off, remember the soft heart of the artichoke.
Give yourself to the whole experiment.