Sunday, February 1, 2009

Quicksand! and mundane reality

[photo: a golden]
There were a couple of staples of the simpler horror movies of my childhood: a dinosaur could eat you, something dead could come back to life, or you could drown in quicksand - this was a favorite of westerns, which always seemed to be the second feature. Possibly the good cowboy would throw out his bullwhip and the evil cowboy could grasp the tip and pull himself out, but it seems to me the evil cowboy would curse at being rescued and prefer to drown. So human!

Yes, I woke up thinking more about hanging in our dilemma, having posted about it last night before bed. The really strange thing, I thought, is that it is the struggle that kills you. This is exactly what happens with quicksand and, the internet informs me, most drownings. The human body is less dense than water or quicksand, which is mostly water; if you relax and lean back, you will float. Then you can paddle to shore, though you are going to have to move slowly to extract yourself against the vacuum you create. I liked everything about this as a metaphor. Relax, float. Move slowly and thoughtfully.

It is the struggle that dooms you. I am reminded of an elderly neighbor who kept nearly dying and being rescued, and finally decided against more emergency interventions a couple of weeks ago. Prepared to die, he went into a hospice facility, where he immediately felt a whole lot better, and is still alive. He had finally stopped pouring all his energy into anxious struggle.

What happens when you stop kicking around, struggling against reality? Floating is not so dramatic. And our personal take on the koan of our life will be unique to our situation.

It has recently been dawning on me that the truth is, I'm living on luck. My kidneys could fail any time, before research has figured out regeneration, before the wearable kidney is perfected, and doom me to complex, uncomfortable treatments. When I realized the truth of that, I thought, I really do need to watch my diet. The kidney diet is more complex than all Oprah's diets put together. You limit phosphorus, potassium, protein and salt. That sounds mundane and it is mundane, in the sense of being an everyday, routine thing. It is about specific, small actions: whether to eat pepperoni pizza, and if so, how much, and if so, how many Phoslo to take with it. And will all that salt (pepperoni) and phosphorus (cheese) and potassium (tomatoes) finally do me in? How many bites do I have to have to satisfy my craving?

The mundane. My favorite short story is "The Golden Mix" by Ira Sukrungruang (thus the photo). At the end of a dramatic realization of the nature of reality, the narrator . . . well, I won't spoil the plot. The action he takes is an ordinary task. That's really what we mean by living in the moment. We mean, the real moment, the space you're actually in.


  1. But gez, knowing that doesn't seem to be enough. How do we know that while we're IN the quicksand?

    Sit more zazen?

  2. I think you're right. I know a lot of people who dropped out of meditation (most do) but have a sort of yearning for Buddhist calm, and "try to live in the moment." They're always running and stressed. You don't get very far that way. Somehow the sitting still we practice in zazen seems to be a transferable skill.

  3. I remember a workplace situation a few years ago. Some "crisis" came up and when I remained calm in the a face of it, a collegue said it was because I didn't care. I said that that wasn't true and that I didn't need to prove I cared by running around in a panic. That I could get a lot more accomplished by remaining calm. I'll admit I probably didn't think it was a big deal either but that's beside the point, maybe.