Jump Tall Buildings, Chase Cowboys — You Gotta Go With What You Got
In This Moment
Darbella and I were having a leisurely soak at The Radium Hot Springs, and ambled over to the hot tub to raise the temp a couple. Not long after, a woman about our age joined us, and a great conversation ensued.
We asked her where she was from, and we eventually learned she was from Alberta, had spent years on cruise ships, and now was (like us) homeless.
We had to know how she was playing that one out, when she grinned a toothless grin, and said, simply,
“What do I need a home for? I have a camper van and a Master Card!”
We kept on gabbing, and she said, “I gotta stop talking, my mouth hurts.” She then went on to explain that she’d just had all of her teeth pulled, something I’d have to admit we’d immediately noticed. Seems that her dentist had discovered a class A infection.
She then announced that she was a week or so away from having her knee “done,” as in replaced, and they pulled her teeth a couple of weeks before, because… infection.
OK, so you’d think that that was a lot to deal with, right? No teeth, just gums, mouth pain, having to keep an eye out for infection, and on top of all of that, knee replacement looming, including the attendant hospitalization for healing and physiotherapy. (Thank Buddha she lives in Canada, eh?)
Anyway, if I was expecting a sob story (my mom had both knees done, and I know how weird it all is, and mom certainly let us know just how bad she thought it all would be…) I was not to get one.
She wrapped up the medical info with, and I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly,
“Shiny new teeth, great new knee! I’ll be leaping tall buildings and chasing cowboys… and now I’ll be able to catch them!”
The trick here is to leave off the spin, which might just be a way one could define Zen. By spin, I mean the interpretation one puts on what is right in front of us. The three types of spin are:
- Positive — Pollyanna meets a flock of cartoon bluebirds
- Neutral — It is as it is — Zen, the Tao
- Negative — Archie Bunker at his finest
You’d think a positive spin would be a good thing, so to speak, but consider: putting a positive spin on a situation often leads to acceptance of things, behaviours, etc. one would be better walking away from. This is different from having a positive attitude, which is a self-directed activity, as in “I fully expect to have an uneventful recovery.”
A negative attitude is just… tiresome. Assuming the worst of situations and others, typically in the guise of angry self-preservation, simply leads to dealing with life while miserable.
It is as it is, on the third hand, is actually so. No matter how hard you argue for another spin, what you see in front of has no “essential essence.”
This is why, when two people confront the same situation (say, our new friend, and my mom, regarding knee replacement) they can find two different views and approaches. One is not right, and one wrong. The only question is utility: “Is this approach helping or hindering me?”
I hear a lot of “Getting older is not for sissies,” and to some extent, at 64, I’m beginning to understand how that plays out. But it’s clear that the sissy part has a lot to do with how the experiences of the latter years are different from that of the younger years.
The Zen is this: things and experiences are as they are, and we are as we are. Sure, we can diet and exercise, and work our brains hard, but at the end of the day, how life actually is, is occasionally toothless and having a wonky knee. It’s not meaningless that the three things that set The Buddha on his quest for enlightenment were sickness, old age, and death. There three markers invite us to explore more deeply, past the fear and suffering.
In other words, the issue is: “This is my life right now — what am I going to do with it?”
And remember, life is then something else. We make great strides when we work from where we are, with acceptance and a sense of humour. From this place, grace and laughter have a better chance of thriving.
I suspect that our presently toothless friend’s attitude is going to lead to a full and fast recovery.