Recently I have been reading a profound book: The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey
by Rinker Buck. The author journeys with his brother, Nick, in a covered wagon pulled by a team of mules along the Oregon Trail from Missouri to the West Coast. As the trip unwinds the story moves between the story of the trail in the nineteenth century, the road as it exists today, and the lives of the author and his brother as they travel.
There is a moment (on page 196 of the paperback edition) where Rinker feels some regret over his relationship with his father and talks to Nick about it. He is filled with the guilt that only someone who has lost a loved one can really understand. But Nick, who is a down to earth fellow with a strong sense of natural intelligence tells his brother not to worry so much. Why?
Nick says: “ ‘There’s no fuckin cure for any of us, Rinker. Get into it dickhead. I’m fucked up, you’re fucked up, okay? Fucked up is normal.’ ”
Crude wisdom. But wisdom nonetheless. Real Chuang Tzu
The experiences I have been through these last three years are…normal! Meaning that they happen to us all. Loss is normal. Screwing up is normal. Suffering is normal. All that makes up the majority of our Human Condition. And there can be no guilt associated with it. It is simply There.
No one can be perfect. No one can go through life without making mistakes. No one can manage to get through all our experiences without being profoundly scarred. We are, at heart, imperfect. And that’s because perfection is simply a concept. And ideal that most of us reach out for and fail to achieve. Even if we could attain flawlessness it’s still impermanent and upon examination would reveal a dark side despite any ingenuous idealism on our part.
For months now I have struggled with the “if only I had done something better” voice in my head. It’s agony sometimes because thinking that way is useless. It drains us of the soul energy we need in order to carry on through each day of challenges.
There is no long rest for us, no retirement, no perfect extended time that will make everything better than what it is. There are simply the experiences that come our way out of circumstance. It\’s our reactions to what takes place that are the real challenge, not the circumstances that led to where we are on any given day.
A certain helplessness is inherent in experience. That’s why the conception of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” is complete nonsense. Our entire American ideal of rugged individualism is a fantasy. First of all, we all depend upon one another. Nothing is separate from anything else. It’s all connected. Any good thing that happens to me is not independently sustained. Same thing with bad stuff. Second, our deeply held belief that we are an independent person is simply a way to rationalize the randomness of experience. None of us chose to be here. None of us made ourselves out of thin air and picked out the particulars of our personality and ego. No one made us who we are at our foundations. Whatever talents we have were randomly developed in a mish mash of nature and nurture. James Hillman’s Acorn Theory applies here.
There is not a single Great Man or Woman who survived death. Everything that makes up a life of action is minor when compared to geologic time. All of our accomplishments in life will eventually be forgotten as time passes and we die and our children pass away and their children and all the passing generations that become distant from the events of their ancestors. That’s simply fact. TThere is only the moment and residual memory.
Even Art fades. Paintings have to be restored. Music has to be continually performed to be remembered. Books go out of print. And our technological cloud world of retained information contains such a huge mass of litter and debris that anything worthwhile is subsumed in a heap of noise that hides everything of value. We have to search for the gold and be wise enough to recognize it when we uncover it. And in our current culture where the trivial is trumpeted as important and then forgotten within hours, we may be losing sight of all these facts and spend so much time consuming that we forget we are alive in the first place.
But there is liberation in all this. If we realize that we can’t be perfect and that our normal state of experience is a fumbling mess of screw ups and occasional bad decisions then we can accept that state of being and stop feeling bad and guilty about it. Then we just do the best we can, love someone, perform acts of kindness and move on. There’s really no other choice other than to have courage in our hearts and continue limping down a road of mystery and pick each other up as we fall down.
Nothing is easy,
Though time gets you worrying,
My friend, it’s OK
Just take your life easy
And stop all that hurrying,
Be happy my way
When tension starts mounting
And you’ve lost count of the pennies you\’ve missed,
Just try hard
And see why they’re not worrying me,
They’re last on my list.
So have at it, friends. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. If you’re fucking up you might be doing things right.