019. GOT LIFE? / by Cara Hines

I want to extend multiple scoops of gratitude with syrup on top to every person who has read this blog, viewed the images and video, forwarded, commented, contributed and encouraged. To this point, what I’ve presented here has been pleasant and airy. It’s been a sharing of my travel experiences intertwined with a lightweight sugary sprinkling of my inner journey along the way, mostly with the hope that it inspires others to get out in the world and do something they’ve always wanted to do.

Since December I’ve fallen silent in my communications with the outside world. The various reasons for this are exactly what I’ve been contemplating and trying to resolve for myself. This silence has to do with the way I’ve presented myself to the world. It has to do with the way I’ve held myself back because I’m afraid of what people will think. It has to do with my deepest fears and insecurities. I’m afraid of being wrong. I want to be liked; I like the idea of making people feel good, and those often come at the expense of my authenticity. I’ve spent most of my life avoiding what I thought made people uncomfortable, and much of the time that included myself. In recent years I began challenging myself personally with a ferocity that at times has and does feel like self-mutilation. But I have not always found the courage to share that same ferocity with the world. As a result, I’ve often felt inauthentic. I couldn’t figure out why I felt a split within myself until I experienced firsthand just how inauthentically I was communicating with you via this blog. I returned from my fall trip to Europe feeling like I’d been laid wide open. When I read my blog, I was mildly amused by my ability to describe my brush with the external world in a way that would assure everyone likes me and no one would be uncomfortable. But it did not convey a woman who’s being re-circuited and generally feeling like part of a Bodyworlds exhibit—exposed layer by layer in a slow and bumbling self-dissection. Reading my raw, hand-written journal entries as they reflect my experiences and evolution of the past few years and comparing them to what I’ve shared with you on this blog, you might think I’m two different people. It’s a chasm I intend to close. Please bear with me as I teach myself to have courage to do that. I welcome any challenges you have to offer me.

It was when I began meditating on my own death and dismemberment that I began to have an inkling of what it is to live. It was when I could visualize living the 60 seconds before life leaves my body as if it were now—am I content with what I've filled my life with to this point; is there anything I wish I had done or not done; what have I started that I truly want to finish; who have I not loved that I wanted to love; where have I not gone that I said I was going to go—that I began letting go of the stuff taking up space in my life that was keeping me from all of it. When I’m standing on a curb in Viterbo Italy, weighted down with my suitcase and video equipment, craning to see if the bus speeding toward me is the one to Calcata, I can see it hitting me as easily as I can see it slipping innocuously past. This is not a death wish or a suicidal tendency. It’s a life affirmation. It’s a periodic reminder that I am indeed alive, and that this life is mine to seize, and it’s as fragile and impermanent as the bug on the windshield of the car that just passed behind the wrong bus whose trajectory did not meet with mine. Instead of instilling more fear, this practice is helping me begin to live more fully despite my fears. It is the recognition of my most basic and primal duality.

Death, or mortality, is an integral part of life for every single human being whether we accept it or not. Death is simply one form of impermanence, and impermanence is a law of nature intrinsic to all beings, states of matter and energy. It is perhaps the only thing we can be certain of in this world. (Taxes can always be evaded.) It does not recognize borders, skin colors, personal wealth or property, physical health or appearance, and it does not coordinate with your iCalendar or secretary to be sure it visits at a convenient time. In our society, death has become a taboo subject and something to be feared rather than revered. Rarely do we see it unless it’s on television, the big screen or a video game. For most of us, it’s something that’s impersonal and unresolved until it’s too late to take back the life we were living before death came.

While I do my best to practice awareness of my mortality as often as possible, I am human. I think it’s impossible to live committed to this physical experience and be aware of every single moment, living them all as if they were my last. After all, there’s something called skillful means. In Buddhism, this is called Upaya and refers to something which brings you up as in an activity or practice that enables enlightenment. But if we’re all getting really honest here, enlightenment is most likely a rare and difficult state achieved only by those truly ready and willing to let go of all attachments to this physical experience, dissolving the ego and all meaning they’ve chosen to place on themselves, people, places, experiences, loved ones, wounds, gifts, and the stories we’ve constructed from living a physical experience in this world. As far as I can tell, enlightenment is akin to skinning oneself alive. It’s total ego-dissolution and self-murder. It’s painful. And there are very few people prepared to take it on. I’m one of them.

(Disclaimer:  This is the best way I know to describe such an elusive concept since I am most certainly not enlightened and don’t currently include it in my 5-year plan, 10-year plan, or even this-lifetime plan. Frankly, it doesn’t sound like fun to me. And as far as I know, I have yet to meet a fully enlightened human being. So I offer my perception of what enlightenment might be like and not an empirical definition of what it is. If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that I don’t know anything, and especially not about things I have yet to experience directly.)

For any spiritual being committed to having a physical experience on this planet and paying attention to it, skillful means might refer to any activity or practice that enables a full, authentic experience and expression in this world. It could include the acquisition of tools of trade, education and knowledge, airfare and gathering with other humans who support our journeys in some direct or indirect way. It might include exercising and eating foods appropriate to keep our bodies in optimal working order. It could consist of whatever meditation, prayer or other spiritual or religious activities we choose to support our journeys. Skillful means is earning money, paying bills, buying groceries, fixing your car, designing your website, patching your yurt or Airstream or roof, sharpening your pencil, shoeing the horses, finding the right shoes for walking 100 days across Europe…in short, it’s the daily taking care of stuff that supports you in the pursuit of your authentic desires.

I still must find the perfect shoes for walking across Europe, and I have to raise the funds for the project. I’m doing my very best to balance skillful means with being present to simply what is. Let me not mislead you. I'm still bumbling and fumbling my way, and every time I think I have things figured out I'm reminded that I know nothing. But when I see the bus careening toward me at a generous clip, it becomes easier to discern which parts of my life are skillful means and which are meaningless, contrived, time-sucking distractions to let go of. When I feel the air move against my skin and hair tickle my face in the wake of the bus’ passing, I step back on the sidewalk in a warm glow of gratitude for this life I get to live a bit longer. It turns out that the often amusing and sometimes somber contemplation of my death is helping me live my life now instead of later. Go figure.