Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Seeing Clearly

I’ve been thinking about windshield wipers lately, in no small part because nephew Edbear got "The Wheels on the Bus” stuck in my head. It’s currently the # 1 hit in Edbearsville, especially the wipers-on-the-bus part. Each rendition he sings (and he is generous with the renditions), begins and ends with that verse, with special emphasis on the "Swish swish swish”.

And frankly I think it’s time wipers got their day. I was reminded of their great utility while driving in the recent snows here. They are the unsung heroes of inclement weather. You don’t have to think about it, but dependably, as raindrops plop, the wipers clear. Yet without them how far could you really get? I remember vividly from childhood the time the driver’s side wiper of my parents’ car gave out during a thunderous storm, my dad driving with his head hanging out the the driver’s side window, getting soaked to the shoulders.

What I’ve been thinking is that sometimes life itself could use a good wipe. I walk around in a haze so much of the time, running from one thing to the next, trying to see between splotches and streaks on the windshield, a continual to-do list falling like fat raindrops from the sky and scattering across my field of vision.

But every now and again I’m aware of a feeling of clearness, like my feet are planted firmly on the ground and I’m awake, I see and understand the road ahead. When I am, however briefly, smarter than my everyday self. I’m all: yes, I am one with the universe! I understand the deep yin and yang of it all! I hold within me with great delicacy all the paradox and pain and deep goodness of the fragile and tantalizingly brief moments we spend spinning around on this precious blue marble! I become like Walt Whitman: all this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well. Her Wiseness Anne Lamott has described this feeling as a veil lifting.

I try to interpolate the graph, to understand which things I do (or stop doing) that lead to this feeling of calmness and solidity.

Sitting for a while with my thoughts helps. It doesn't really help while I’m sitting – a few beats after I close my eyes and tune in to my breath like you’re supposed to, I become privy to the deafening cyclone that is the inside of my brain. The whole operation sounds a lot like these cartoon viking kittens plundering the seas to Led Zeppelin, if the sound were piped through subwoofers and garbled with static and scattered sentence fragments and loops of conversations in which my part of the dialogue becomes increasingly witty and self-righteous with each repeat.

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to function at all.

The clarity part usually happens when I open my eyes and realize I’m back where I began, and the room is stunningly silent and still compared to the white water rapids I’ve been cruising down in my mind.

And the afterglow from that is that I tend to feel a little less like an unstable isotope, always whipping my electrons around me at maximum speed, unable to land anywhere to rest happily, slowly decaying into other things. I feel a little more like I live inside my body, and my body doesn’t stretch a block before and after my mind like it usually does. It’s like in the cartoon Peter Pan when he finally catches that hyperactive shadow and reattaches it to himself, where it belongs. It feels like I turned the windshield wipers on.

Another thing that helps me turn the wipers on is remembering a phrase I read in a book by Charlotte Kasl: what is, is. Here's what she says about it:

It helped me accept the moment and stop fighting with myself...It’s just what is. It’s the truth, it’s where my life is right this moment. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just what’s happening at the moment. Saying what is, is helps us stop demanding that situations and people be different. It also allows us to drop into our feelings, which connects us to our inner wisdom.

It’s kind of a reality check. It helps you identify and accept whatever’s going on in your life at that very moment. It puts the horrible and the sublime in perspective. Keeps you from sensationalizing. Helps you get a firmer grasp on reality.

Our eyes are flawed and we forget to see with them. It’s nice to put on a pair of glasses now and then, and see the sharpness and detail you’ve been missing. It's nice to get the high-def channels once in a while.

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