The Story of Now

I try to put a cap on things. To shake down all the shaking up and figure out what it is that’s tossing me to and fro for the past few weeks.

Story. It is story.

I tell myself a story as I’m raking, another seven hours put in this weekend. The story goes like this: I complain to myself that there’s no chance in hell a wildfire would come our way. I whimper that the neighbors are afraid of death and that I have to do this irrational task because of it. I count and recount the hours, calculate perimeter in my head, and get the tape measure out so I’m sure I’m actually clearing thirty feet – no more than required. But that’s all just story – the repeated cycle of habitual thought that’s rambling around in my brain with each stroke of the rake. It takes about four hours, but eventually I stop the story. I listen to music and salsa with Maria de Barros while I rake. I get sweet with Jehro and sing out loud to Manu Chao, bobbing my head up and down to the cadence of each song, and striking the rake across the ground like a metronome. The story dissipates; I am at ease. I smile at the sun, the rim of clouds rolling over the top of the Black Mountains like water. I am outside, jubilant, breathing. This is as close to being present as I get, and it takes a lot of work to get there.

Funny thing is, the present is there all along.

And so it is decided. I will rake until the cows come home, or at least by the looks of it, for about fifteen more hours this week. I will rake the heavens, the earth, and everything in between. I will follow the cadence of the rustling leaves with my breath, let myself be swept away in each present moment. I will accept this teaching and keep the habitual storyline at bay. I will, I will, I will.

This lesson carries me through Monday, where the boss is spewing negativity and unadulterated self-storyline and I use my vow to let it all roll off of me like water. When she gets going, I pray for her in my mind. I try to hear her, because she needs to be heard. And I try to wish her well, to help her separate from the repeated suffering that she can’t seem to walk away from. It’s an exercise in generosity, not ego-building. If I follow my breath when she’s being negative, I can pray for her and be strong at the same time. It’s another teaching, another chance to move away from the storyline of negativity. It’s another gift.

I try to apply this to friends, who test and push me not knowing that I am at my weakest (little sleep, just off my first semester, about to go 3 1/2 months without a steady paycheck, uncertainty about love and lust and like and everything inbetwee). It is their gift to me, too – their pushing. I try to stay with it, to lean in and gleam from them their teachings. This takes time. It’s fragile work.

And I try to apply this steadiness, this ability to be present, to my own heart. All afternoon I look for Parker’s car. I worry myself to and fro and no, no, no sign of him. By nightfall I remember that, I think, he said he was going to UniversityTown, NC for something today. My mind stops racing. I laugh at myself, my stories, my games. Even his absence is a teaching, another gift.

It is a time of transition from fall to winter, from part-time employment to full-time self-employment, from perhaps lust to something greater or at least something freer, from “just started grad school” to “in the thick of it.” The temptation is to tell stories of the past or project into the future. Time seems to beg for anything other than itself. And I say hold on, heart. Hold on, head. Hold on, mind. Hold on to nothing other than that which is before you. Stay present.

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