Friday, October 31, 2014

The Good in Suffering

It feels so good to have sore muscles some times. When you've gone out and had a great time, had a little too much fun and built some good memories, sometimes it results in sore muscles for a few days. You wake up a bit stiff but it feels good some how. The pain is nominal and you wouldn't trade it for the experience your gained. Other times something bad happens. You go a little too head first into your activity and you get a little beat up. You loose your footing, take a fall, let the concentration slip just enough that it doesn't turn out well. Things bleed or break and hurt enough that you'd like to take them back. You want to go back in time and be more careful, more aware, but you can't. What's done is done and it takes a good amount of time to recover from it. Sometimes that is all that will help: time.

My heart is a muscle, one of my favorites, and it is sore. Not from pumping too much blood or beating too quickly, but from doing what hearts are made to do, from sticking to a promise to myself to accept and give love openly and freely no matter the shape or form so long as it is a positive interaction. It is sore but it feels good in a strange way. It will take a few days to heal but it will be fine. My concerns lie with the one that is more than just sore, the broken one. If you've ever had a friend end up in a bad situation, you know the feeling. You want to heal the broken bones inside their body, but you can't. You want to realign things so they work properly again, so the pain is gone, but you can't. But time will.

The only thing I can think of that is worse than suffering is watching someone suffer.

That is why we put down our dogs when they are too old. That is why we pull the plug when there is no hope left. It is hard to suffer but it is far harder to watch someone or something we care for suffer. We will do most anything to help but sometimes, all that can help is time. The very nature of suffering is temporal. It passes by us just as it washes over us to begin with. Remembering that is key to dealing with suffering. Suffering is a season, and just as Winter will turn to Spring, suffering will end.

The Dalai Lama puts it bluntly:
"Our attitude towards suffering becomes very important because it can affect how we cope with suffering when it arises".
 - Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness

I carried the Dalai Lama's book entitled The Art of Happiness with me during my first weeks hiking the Appalachian Trail. I had a lot of sore muscles and tendons and joints and it was a reminder to look past those ailments and see more, to see my road to Katahdin. By seeing our suffering as more than just pain, we can harvest the lessons within it. It hurt to walk but I knew that walking was what I needed to do. Sometimes feeling pain is just our lot in life. Sometimes we can do something to fix it. On the AT, I learned stretches that helped my Achilles and stretched out my groin muscle. Sometimes we can't do anything about the pain. There was no solution to my muscles ripping apart within my body from overuse and then growing back bigger and stronger as each day passed. It was pain that must be endured. Some things must simply be endured.

How do you help someone endure something that could be completely broken when all you really want to do is realign everything so that it is fixed? Sadly, you can't.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Owning Up and Honoring Impressions

Some may remember the time I claimed some where on this blog that I was going to write a book. Yeah, well, it's been a year since then and things are... well, moving along quite nicely, considering. Considering I don't seem to believe in myself or the work itself, things are going great. It's a year later and I still haven't bought into the phrase, "I'm writing a book." First off, it sounds pretentious. There is nothing special about me that warrants me the right to write a book in the least. I am very unspectacular! I just like to write, a lot. Secondly, its not a book until it is a book. I'd rather call it what it is, an extremely sizable and detailed written account of a very intriguing time in my ordinary life. I just hate saying to people, "I'm writing a book." But sometimes I do because they get confused when I say, "I'm writing an extremely sizable and detailed written account of a very intriguing time in my ordinary life." I feel sheepish to make such a great claim. Of course, I would love if one day it was a real book, bound in my hands with thousands of like copies sitting on book store shelves across America. But, it much more likely may end up being a 98% complete Mircosoft Word document taking up space on my computer.

Anyways, this little beast of a Word doc is growing by the day. It began not long after my return as a highlight reel of the best stories. When I ran out of those I went on to the second best stories. Then I began to bring in some characters in a more meaningful way. All of these stories were aligned chronologically and this was 'Manuscript #1'. I tediously read through this half inch thick stack of papers, making preliminary edits and taking note of where the story gets lost and what needs to be filled in. This comprehensive, start to finish, description of my thru hike is what I call 'Manuscript #2', which has recently been edited by my mother. I needed a fresh pair of eyes and an outside opinion to catapult me into 'Manuscript #3', the dreaded 'Manuscript #3'.

She came back with the growing stack of papers binder clipped together and inside were corrected comma splices, silly mistakes circled to be revised and then the tough news. "It's great," she said, because it could legitimately suck and she would still think its great because she'e my mom, "but it needs more heart." I knew immediately what she meant because I had known that before I even printed it out. It needed more of the love, more of the suffering, more of the blissful happiness. More about the people and who they were and what they meant to me. It needed more of the things that I suck so much at in life; vulnerability, openness, honesty, truth.

So here I stand. I had a grouping of stories that was a skeleton. I went back and built muscles, organs and skin over the skeleton with a second draft. The third time around, I am faced with bringing it to life. Facing feelings from the past in order to represent an honest truth about my time on the Appalachian Trail. I wasn't always pleasant and though I regret it, I can't change it. I must accept it. I must accept the things I can't understand and realize the importance of the impression left on me by those that were with me. These impressions need to shine through in the book and in order for them to do so, I must go searching for the truths behind them. How did I fall in love with Gonzo, a character so uncomfortably different than I? Why did I treat him so badly? Did I treat him especially badly or are lover's quarrels just more intense when you are both hiking in a cold, down pouring rain, on an empty stomach, down a treacherously steep mountain, with 1,500 miles of weariness behind you? I have to find the answer to all these questions. And then I must write about them.