There Is a Way

The 101 North is something very different in Western Washington than it is in Southern California. Up here, there’s only traffic if you make it, by going above or below the modest posted speed limits.

It is, I will say, a pleasant drive. Especially when Bodhi (my ’93 Jeep Cherokee XJ) is rumbling along this nicely. “Check Engine” just doesn’t feel as urgent. More like a soft suggestion: a problem for future me.

“Do you have a big, heavy wrench?” Bill, my ace mechanic, asks after I tell him I’ve broken down (thankfully, on my way home).

“Yeah, I’ve got one.”

“Ok, good. Wack the alternator with that a couple times, then call me back.”

“Well, I think that did it.”

“Ok, good.”

Just like that. If only more of life’s many dilemmas were solved that easily. Yet maybe that’s precisely the problem: we so often think they can be.

When you love someone who loves hydrangeas, coming across huge patches of wild ones is a big deal. I don’t want to pick them, necessarily—nor can I legally, within the Olympic National Forest. It’s just that I know how happy this would make her. And that’s fun to think about.

My campsite, on the shore of Lake Quinault, is surrounded on its other three sides by the Quinault Rainforest. It’s shaded during the day by old-growth Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock. And with no artificial beams to dilute its reflection, at night, the slim crescent moon lights up the rippling surface of the lake as though it were full.

After hiking for hours, I don’t know what I was expecting to feel, as I sit on the grass beneath a 1,000-year-old tree.

At 191 feet tall, and nearly 60 feet around, it’s the largest Sitka Spruce in the world. And it has been growing, less than 100 hundred miles from where I was born, since long before my earliest ancestors arrived on this continent. And this feels, though I’m not certain as to why, like important information.

I’ve split this past year (almost evenly) between three countries. The past eleven weeks I have spent in six different cities. And I have, during that time, spent weeks with some of my oldest friends and, at one time or another, shared a roof for at least one night with every member of my (relatively small) immediate family.

As for you and I… well… we were in Sweden, then we were in Thailand, then we were in Sweden, and now we are apart. I’m still not completely sure what we are doing. But tomorrow I will be back in Stockholm, and we (as we always seem to do) will figure that out together.

Now, I bring all that up only so I can say this: It’s harder than I thought it would be to love everyone and tell the truth. I am trying. But I do not always get it right. Even when it’s my very favorite people on the planet, I can still be too quick to give myself a pass; I can judge others unfairly; I can miss their point by a mile (or, occasionally, 1.6 kilometers).

And yet there is nothing, I know, to be done about this. There is nothing to regret or forgive. I will do what I can do to do better tomorrow. And that’s it.

“And once I just allowed that I am human with all the foibles, things just started to flow, and I could feel change occurring in myself,” Harvard psychologist Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) once said. “And then I would start to experience my own beauty… and it frightened me because it was so dissonant and discrepant of the model I had cultivated of myself over the years: That I had to do good in order to be beautiful.”

Most of the time, though, it doesn’t work like this. What we are getting or not getting, physically and emotionally, is what matters most to us. Which means we regularly use the actions and inactions of others to determine our value. Then we get either happy or upset, depending on how well what is happening lines up with the story, good or bad, that we already believe.

“They did what they did because that’s what they did,” Alpert explained in one of his many lectures, “that’s their problem.”

People or events don’t frustrate us. We allow ourselves to become upset. We react, unquestioningly. Over all other options, we choose indignation.

There is a way, however, to say or do absolutely everything without anger.

Would the world be a better place without it? Probably. I cannot imagine how it would not. And yet there is only one way—that I can think of—to know for sure.

“Out of simple exuberance or wonder he wants to tell others of the point of view from which the world is unimaginably good as it is,” Alan Watts wrote in This Is It, “with people just as they are.”

There is a way, I believe, to consistently love everyone and tell the truth. So for now, I’m sticking with that. There is, I believe, a way… And if you figure out what it is before I do, please tell me.

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