October Men's Room
The American spiritual guru Ram Dass once quipped, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”
I can attest to the insights gleaned from taking Dass up on his dare.
To be clear, my folks and I have a wonderful relationship. They live nearby, and we meet often for meals. But these are visits of just a few hours. Our recent excursion to the mountains lasted a full ten days. Our longest stretch together in decades.
The first few days went fine, but by day three, little stuff my dad did started to bug me. I grew impatient with his stubborn insistence on rising (loudly) before dawn to swim laps at the mountain community pool (as he does every morning at home at his golf community pool). I got annoyed by his preoccupation with dessert as we chewed our last bites of dinner. Irritated as he read aloud every sign we passed between Boone and Blowing Rock. I clearly wasn’t as Zen as I liked to think I was.
On day six, in the middle of a gorgeous hike with breathtaking views, my father felt compelled to pull out his phone to check the next day’s forecast. Judgment rose up in me (“Why can’t he just be in the moment?!”), but this time, a previously silent inner voice spoke up: “You check your weather app way more than he does, dude.”
This new voice was spot on. And not just about the weather app. I realized that every critique of my father was actually a veiled critique of something about myself I wanted to change. A cliched epiphany, of course. But knowing something intellectually is one thing; a truth striking you to the core is something else entirely.
I began to keep a list. My judgments of my father transformed into a laundry list of self-improvement suggestions: Speaks authoritatively on subjects about which he knows little. That’s me! Makes the same corny Dad jokes over and over. I need to work on that. Catastrophizes about small stuff. Check! Stubbornly attached to routine. Yeppers.
That last one really nailed me. In the name of efficiency, very little gets improvised in my life these days, and I realize, to my horror, I’ve become a creature of habit just like Dad. My father always chews Original Flavor Trident gum. I’m addicted to Freshmint Tic Tacs. He insists on swimming every morning. I stubbornly meditate every morning. We each have a rigid breakfast routine. His: yogurt with strawberries. Mine: oat squares cereal with blueberries.
The Japanese Zen Priest Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”
When we get older, we think we know everything, so we get stuck in routine. We lose that open curious mind we had when we were younger.
Recently, a friend’s son began college. I heard myself give him the following advice: “Stay curious.”
That new inner voice spoke up again. It said, “This is exactly the advice you need to hear.”
To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.
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