Habit and the zen of shin scrapes

When New Year’s resolution are made they consistently have one commonality in their formation. Mostly any desire to change something in one’s life is expressed in the early hours of January 1 it shares a universal trait of habit. The things we wish were different in our own personal stories are the things we have formed habits of, or intend to form a habit of. You want to quit smoking, habit. More time in the gym, develop a new habit? Learn guitar, be a better partner, get a new job, all functionally identical in that to execute any of these ideas you must create and destroy habit. So, what does this mean for me? I have never been much for New Year’s resolutions, but I do love a good analogy when I want to rationalize or justify my thoughts and behaviors. Writing down thoughts,, memories, journaling, story telling, these are the things I would like to be doing with my time. For what end, who cares? There is no agenda, simply a desire to use language and written word to discover more about myself and the world I’ve spent the last few decades being fortunate enough to experience. I have owned this domain for a few years and each time spring comes back around I find myself renewing a still empty website on the basis of a similarly empty promise to myself that this time will be different, this time I will really put something out there into the world. Well, maybe this is a legitimate shot at it, a real effort. I hope so, and I hope I make a habit out of writing each day enough that this may find itself a little less empty come next spring.

In the spirit of progress, I will finish this out with a short story. A real and true story nonetheless.

Three days ago I woke up with the intention of spending my day outdoors. A stretch of good summer weather had been giving me that adolescent stir to get out and play each and every day. As a man in his mid thirties, the balance between desire and duty is a hard line to walk upon, having a youthful spirit brings out the wanderlust and sense of adventure I have been fortunate enough to keep strong throughout my years, but my age and social the place of an adult man in this country at this place in time tend whisper in my ear that something more productive and more responsible could be done with idle time. I try to find the balance, and have been leaning more and more to the side of simplicity and enjoyment. Feeling guilty for misuse of time in a sense that something more sensible could have been accomplished is unfair to myself. This notion of feeling a kind of societally implied obligation is one that I have been trying to kick for some time now. In recent years, I have come to the realization that for me these social constructs contribute nothing terrible beneficial in an internal satisfaction sort of way, that the facade of fitting in and falling in line has served only to disguise my true nature and person. Idealizing a constant state of working, working towards goals and capitalistic functionalities has been my mindset simply through cultural submersion for as long as I had been on my own in adulthood. This is not to suggest that I snub all obligation and productivity as an active and useful member of society, I still must earn a living and contribute in some way, but I am unwilling to allow that sort of ethos to define me.

This is no longer my path, and I am happier for it. There is still much discovery and learning to be done, of course, but the path to self awareness and realization is one to be enjoyed. Deconstructing the empty ideals which had been built up like walls around my true self for years and years is going to be a lengthy venture, but what is life other than an indeterminate amount of time allotted to be spent figuring out how to live? So, I find myself allowing the choices that “feel” right to light my way more and more. In the Northeast, where winter seems to last nearly eight months these days, a sunny day in the few months of warm and pleasant weather cannot be passed over in lieu of more rat-race based tasks.

I spent the morning drinking a good amount of water and reading until it was time to fill my pack and get going. I packed for myself, my partner and the dog. She packed some meals for the day, and I filled the backpacks with everything we might need for a few miles in the woods. I tend to overthink and overpack for the worst case scenario, but have overcome this within the last year or so for the most part. Less and less I find myself having to pare down what was been packed and now I seem able to put items aside that are not truly necessary for a simple outing. At first this pained me, it was ingrained and habitual, something innate, second nature.

Once we were packed and ready, we filled my car and headed off to 87 northbound towards Lake George. Sleeping Beauty Mountain was the destination of choice for the day. The proximity of less than an hour and a half from home plays a key component in this decision, as little advance planning and logistics must be put considered and time is of no concern in the summer months. Had we gone north into the High Peaks region it would be another story of leaving with with eyes still puffy with sleep in the dark hours of the morning to make a day long trek and return again in the late hours of the evening. This, conceptually, took away from the feeling of ease and relaxation that I sought after on this day. Any minor amount of stress would have been counterproductive towards what I was hoping to experience. The drive was a breeze, little to no traffic, and we were at the trailhead in no time. Marching away, I took time to notice as much as possible, to pay attention to the earth around me and everything it presented. After a few miles upward we enjoyed the windy peak and cloudless day for a few minutes before continuing a looped path back towards the base of the mountain. During the walk down came the part I had been most excited for all day. I had been recently reading the novel “Dharma Bums” by Jack Kerouac, and had taken particular notice to a segment of the book in which the protagonist and his fellow Buddhist mountain climbing friend tackle a trek to the peak of Matterhorn Peak in the Sierra Nevada range. The protagonist Ray admires his friend’s ability to jump from rock to rock, nimbly and effortlessly. Kerouac suggests in his writing that this was a Zen moment, allowing no time to consider and choose which rock you would jump to next, but that in constant motion it was just what happened because it was. In my own walk I had been thinking of this and wanted to experience it first hand with the idea of remaining thoughtless and allowing the path down to present itself to me at complete random. So I ran down the trail leaping from rock to rock for what felt like hundreds of yards, arms flying about madly, smiling, letting myself submit to the universe itself, and allowing fate to wash over me. Then I found myself aware that I was sailing a bit too far between two rocks, and as my outstretched front foot reached for the next landing place my tucked up back leg smacked broadly upon a large flat rock pointed out of the ground at a forty-five degree angle. I stopped with great concern as I looked down and saw the deep gash in the skin half way up my shin directly over the tibia. Luckily, in trimming down the contents of my pack the important parts of a first aid kit were not victims of the purge, and I put a gauze pad over the wound and wrapped it in rolled gauze. I continued down the trail in no lesser of a mood than I had been in, albeit in a bit more pain though.

I felt alive. I felt as though that was exactly what was supposed to happen, as if it were some lesson which needed to be learned. I was happy in that moment.