CULTIVATE GOOD EMOTIONAL REACTIONS
“If you want to make God laugh,
tell him of your plans.”
Life is full of jolts and tosses and sudden happenings we did not want or expect. Expletives are made for such times and express well our upset and disappointment when things do not seem to go our way, or a reasonable way, or a convenient way or not a dangerous or destructive or even deadly way. These wrong turns and upsets can never be fully avoided or escaped from, though many build entire life projects towards this aim. Indeed, a whole lifetime may be spent engineering our own circumstance and the circumstance of others to prevent upset, or the fruition of what we do not want. Some success may even be had…for a time. And some peace then may be found…for a time. But then how much greater the upset and consequence when the universe at last veers left when we wanted and engineered and begged and dreamed and connived it should go right. Such upset and disappointment. A great fall from such a well-intentioned height. Pain then. Sadness for a while. Life appears then such a grind.
The Stoics did teach us to recognize and mind the scope of our control, for this then sets up parameters of reasonable response. Our expectations must be trained to extend no further than our own self-control in the face of a complex world which may not behave as we want or expect. I cannot control fortune. Though I can control how I respond to fortune’s whims. My own self-control in responding well to every event and circumstance—favorable or not—is not only my best utility in dealing well with life as it is; buy is my only truly effective response to the things to which I could never prepare.
So, cultivate self-control. Become the master of your response. Take charge of what you think, say, and do in every circumstance—good or bad; knowing sometimes you will fail at this worthy effort, and flail and fight and yell and cry for fear and sadness sake. But sometimes you will prevail. Periodically you'll remain in control while Rome seemingly burns; and you will stand watching, thinking, controlling emotions, preparing a suitable and reasonable response and then acting with swift and prudent motion, judicious intent, and honorable motive. Cultivate this way of being. Become someone in control of themselves.
Finding a new nest
Yumiko and I decided to downsize after Emily left to begin life on her own. Our own move began just two days after Emily left our home on Saturday, July 11th. Our new place is a one-bedroom apartment in the same community where we've enjoyed living for the past two years. We really like this community, which we think is the best place we've ever lived in either Japan or the USA, and we are happy to stay here for another year. Though we got the keys to the new place yesterday, we left a half month overlap between our current unit and this new, smaller unit, in order to allow us a more leisurely transition—though I expect we will be fully moved within a week as we own so little of anything besides memories.
Curiously, the sense of empty-nest despair which we both felt on Sunday has seemingly passed. And while I described it to Yumiko as a "one day phenomenon" Yumiko told me it felt to her more like just a "twelve hour" despair. The open door to Emily's dark, empty bedroom hangs there off the living room as a reminder that she is gone, though it does not yawn with pain like it so acutely did the day after she left; and I imagine our moving to a new apartment will have the effect of more fully extricating us from the diminishing pain of a past life which is now no more. Moving on seems to help ease the pain.
Emily and her boyfriend Chris did pop in midday on Monday in order to pick up a few more things from Emily's room, and I used my lunchtime break to help them carry the heavier items down to Chris' truck. Emily seems quite engaged with her new life—no looking back it seems—as she told us a little more about her roommates and living situation. I reminded her that she will always have a home with us, and that whatever happens she will always be grounded within our family. She listened, and nodded her head patiently, before moving on to raid the fridge for an impromptu snack which she shared with Chris. I know that things are good for her just now, and also that life will likely begin to show her otherwise, as it so evidently seems to do for us all. Emily is a good person, and I expect she'll find, struggle and muddle her way through whatever comes like all of us do, emerging, if not richer, then perhaps at least better for the effort and attempt at living well. Yumiko and I have done—hopefully—all we can for Emily besides maintaining her now through the remainder of her college years, and being there for her when she needs us.
But now, we will do our supporting from our own new little home, a new and smaller "empty nest". Now, we too have begun to leave that old nest of our completed parenthood years. We've flown the coop! And Yumiko and I will begin to make a new home--certainly not our last if past precedent is any prediction of the future—as maturish parents of a grown adult who no longer needs us like she once did as a child. We are ready to make not just a new home together, but a new life—another life in the long list of lives we've lived together since we met way back in 1986.
Let the new living begin!
An uncomplaining camp
Emotions are a curious thing to ride upon. They jump and jostle and jolt and then rest, before picking up again and tossing all about. As a young man, I wore my emotions upon my face, and my actions and reactions were a sure giveaway and barometer to whatever inner circumstance I was enduring. Like a private season and climate of the mind; at once halcyon and pleasant with sunshine and cool breezes, while changing like day to night to darkness and rustlings in the night. Storms of feeling could appear suddenly, bringing thoughts and words like thunder and rain.
With age, these seasons have tempered less than become better borne; though in fact there is less tempest to the day's troubles when the day is regarded as little more than a brief and ephemeral flash and glow upon the face of an eternal darkening night. For with age comes a better sense of mortality, as our footsteps grow weary from walking long, and we perceive a nice place for a last camp some distance off in the foothills of that dark mount. Never mind the fact of snow flurries passing before the face, or lightning flashing far off upon the silent peaks, great fury and tempest to be sure, though at such a distance as to render the voice of the storm mute. So too, your own still voice despite whatever fear may be growing within. Age has granted you a mute voice, and a mute face, and perhaps even a mute mind should such a thing be sought for along the way from birth to now.
And when the camp is reached, and our preparations for night are complete; we can then sit there upon stones and in the wind beside whatever shelter we have found. And if we are bold we will kindle no fire and consume only the simplest of whatever rations remain. We are alone now at this camp—even if someone else is with us—we are alone. We know now that we've always been just one in this passage along The Path of Wildness, a journey from nowhere to nowhere in what we now understand was the course of a single dawn leading to a singular nightfall. We will not survive this coming night. Our camp will be utterly gone when the sun rises upon the others. A few will remember us for a time. And in another time, none will know our name. And still, upon these vain reflections, our voice, face, and perhaps even our mind remains mute. Such a good end. To return without complaint, or voice even, to the empty from which we once did emerge.
Notes from my muse
Anxiety strikes nearly every time I’m very far into the wild, and in territory I’ve never visited. It rarely meets me where I’ve been before, even when situations go bad, and real danger is present and looming. Perhaps it’s the fact of familiarity—even with fearful circumstances—which holds our fears at bay, allowing us to foil our well-being despite our own better judgement and disposition. Deep wilderness rarely tolerates such reckless disregard or ignorance, and will warn and punish us at once with a gut-gnawing apprehension, and something resembling a dry terror—dryness, as in a parched and gaping mouth—which can shrivel our resolve and will, and send us into a backward panic of retreat from whatever natural vision or understanding brought forth the fear. This happens to me nearly every time I’m alone and pushing the limits of exploration into deep and seemingly uncharted wilderness. This video captures the minutes leading up to this moment, which I could sense was coming. You can’t gauge from the video the depth and sincerity of the fear I felt—which caused a spontaneous gulp just now as I type these words—and the only reason I appear so calm is because I saw the terror (that’s truly not too strong a word) coming from a half mile off. I knew what was about to happen; and when it did, I put on a pretty good show for the camera of not being afraid; though I was. I was very afraid. What we fear in the dark can just as easily find us during the day.
There's a tipping point in every adventure alone in wild places, a moment when our irrational fears are behind us, and the necessity of confronting the hard facts of what's truly real is before our feet. There's great need to step carefully from this point forward, when the voice of caution becomes mute, and the adolescent confidence of overcoming our fears may lead us over the edge of a cliff.
After overcoming an initial wave of anxiety, there’s often a few minutes of euphoria fueled by the excitement of meeting what we fear in the wild, coupled with the adrenaline rush of facing it down. It’s these few tens of minutes of energy and resolve that are probably the most dangerous moments in any hike alone in deep wilderness; as this is the time when we are more inclined to take foolish risks, make mistakes and really get hurt. My routine at such times is to always stop just when the first wave of anxiety strikes, perhaps for an impromptu lunch, or maybe just to sit on the ground, take off my boots and let my emotions settle and congeal into something more firm and tangible, less ephemeral and phantom. When my mind is settled, and my reason restored, I’ll clean up my sudden camp, lace up my boots, hoist the pack, and resume my march into someplace unknown. It’s a good and helpful routine, and an essential precaution when alone within a place where help and solace are as remote and alien as the love of kin and kind.