Meditating at Zen Center
For this post to make sense, it might help to put this whole trip into context. In large part, Neda & I have been planning this “mini-retirement” as a part of the fulfillment of our marriage vows. When we met, I had always wanted to do a period of more intense meditation in a monastic setting and we were able to do that together when we moved to Austin and did a year of residential practice at the Austin Zen Center. Neda supported this dream of mine and also enthusiastically participated in the growth opportunities that the Zen Center afforded us.
Neda’s dream was traveling the world and experiencing new places and cultures. She had been considering the Peace Corp when we met in St. Louis, but our budding relationship turned her attention elsewhere. So in some ways this adventure is an intentional honoring of her dreams and my commitment is to enthusiastically participate the same way she did with the Zen Center. In other words, to continue to weave our individual dreams together into the fabric of our shared life and values.
But the actual framing for this trip as a “mini-retirement” came out of the book the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, which was recommended by Neda’s friend Chris Curtis. In the book, Ferris talks about avoiding the deferred life plan – the idea that you need to wait until after retirement or until after you have saved some set amount of money to start doing the things you’ve always wanted to do. We allow fear-based reasoning (i.e. I won’t have enough money, I can’t do this without health insurance, if I leave work for a period of time I’ll fall behind, etc…) to persuade us to continually defer our dreams.
Our experience at the Grand Canyon was a giant affirmation that we must imbibe the nectar of life with the feverish passion a man lost in the desert would bring when stumbling upon an oasis. The awe-inspiring rocks of the Canyon stare down at us with the impersonal gaze born of 2 billion years of experience. They whisper to us of our fleeting existence within the scope of geologic time and implore us to live our dew-like lives to their fullest.
As we left the old masters of sandstone, shale, and limestone at sunset, the animals of the region chimed in with their own chorus to remind us of our fragile mortality. Neda & I were traveling along route 180 at nearly 70 mph on our way to Flagstaff after the sun had set and darkness surrounded us like a cloak just beyond the edge of the Camry’s headlights. Suddenly, a gigantic shape misted into existence right in front of us. I slammed onto the breaks and just managed to swerve around a massive elk standing in the middle of the road.
There were 3 elks like this one
As I dodged around the first elk, a 2nd was leisurely walking directly into the path of the Camry before finally recognizing the car for the threat it was and thudding out of the way.
Neda & I were both shaken by this near death experience. Our host in Flagstaff said it was not uncommon for a car to hit an elk head-on and have the frame go under the legs of the beast while the passengers in the cab met a grisly end slamming into the torso. Like the whispering of the canyons, the elk was another cue of the delicate impermanence of our lives.
These universal cues are all around us if we pay attention. And if we take these cues to heart, we can integrate them into our lives with the decisions we can control. We can choose to not turn away from a loved one out of anger or frustration, to open ourselves to new opportunities despite our fear, and to love openly even when we risk getting hurt. The lesson of the canyons and of the elk is that we have no time to waste. We cannot subscribe to the deferred life plan because life is simply too fragile and precious to defer. We must each pay attention to the cues in our universe so that we might start adopting a “preferred” plan life plan over a deferred one.
See the rest of the pics of the Canyon and a couple from Oak Creek Canyon as well here.