This evening I was feeling oppressed by the sweltering heat and humidity. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe anymore, so I put my damp suit on (third time today) and went down to the marina beach to get into the water. The sky was completely gray and seemed to weigh down on the world and turn even the water a gun metal gray. There were no others down at the beach and only a few boats far out on the lake. I felt alone both with the water and with my own thoughts. I got into the chilly, wonderful water and lay on my back and stared at the sky. I thought, beyond that gray presence the sun is still setting, and somehow I could see the pale pinks and blues beyond the gray. I’m not sure why, but it seemed both profound and comforting. I was thinking about how Gurumayi used to say that we should lay on our backs on the earth at least once a day and stare at the sky. (She didn’t mention lying on your back in the water—but it worked for me today.) I think it is wise advice. It puts all things into perspective and makes you feel both small and insignificant—and yet a part of all things. It makes you treasure a single moment and let all the strains of the day slide away.
It is so easy to get caught up in the imagined complexity of things when the simple things are what matter most. But we have to be open to that simplicity.
Twice in the past couple of weeks I was visiting with someone new to me and they talked about how, since they moved to northern Minnesota, they had found it rather lonely—difficult to meet people they could connect with.
It reminds me of a story about an old man who was practiced in the art of life. He was sitting on the edge of a town collecting alms from the people who passed by. One couple came by and said, “We are just moving to this new place. Can you tell us what it is like?” The sage thought a moment and then asked, “What was it like in the place you came from?”
The wife immediately said, “Oh, it was an awful place. The people gossiped all the time and would not take two steps to help anybody out if they needed it. We were very lonely there.” Her husband just nodded and said, “It was not a good place. That is why we want to know what this place is like before we move here.” The sage looked at the unhappy couple and said, “Well, I’m sorry to tell you. This place is just like the place you left.”
The couple sighed and turned away from the town to go and find another. A little while later a young couple came by with two small children in tow. They stopped and asked the old man, “Please sir, we are looking for a new place to call home. Can you tell us what this place is like?” Once again the old man said, “What was it like in your other home town?”
The man smiled and gave his wife a hug. “It was a wonderful place full of beautiful experiences and friendly people. We loved living there, but we wanted a change. So, is this place a good place?”
The old man smiled and said, “Yes, this place is very much like the place you have left. It is filled with friendly people and interesting things to do. Your family will be very happy here.”
The couple thanked him and walked toward the town to find a new home.
I very much love that story. Sometimes when I get caught up in the illusions of complexity and stress, I forget that the “good place to live” is an inner state not having much to do with where we live or even who we know. Over the past year I’ve been consciously practicing being open to new people and experiences—it is a little like turning a dial that takes me from being too “self” conscious to being “other” conscious. And I have found this a very good place to live.
PS—I went looking for a “fun” picture to post with this and found this one. Doesn’t get much more fun than this. Enjoy where you live.
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