I’ve often wondered why some men lavish such care on their cars. There it sits in the driveway, every panel, window, bumper and wheel gleaming in the sun. And when the engine is turned over you can be sure it will purr, growl or hum, according to the driver’s preference.
My own sense of maintaining the things on which I rely is far more casual, dictated less by love than by expediency. Although I do appreciate my time in the morning—before a mouse has stirred or the newspaper hit the driveway—when I do the dishes, wipe the counters, make coffee and sit for a while in the quiet.
But yesterday, in the weekly on-line class based on Tarthang Tulku’s latest book, “Caring”, we did a practice which helped me see that treating everything in such an expedient manner has unanticipated side-effects; that it takes an extraordinary event to wake me up to the opportunities available in every moment.
The practice was to bring to mind some vehicle or object that we love, and then to explore how all its parts fit together and collaborate in harmony with one another. Others in the class picked things that I tend to ignore: a much used kitchen knife for someone who loves to cook, pruning shearers for someone who loves to garden, etc. I picked the fourteen foot Ackroyd dinghy that my family had when I was a teenager living on the West End of Montreal, which allowed me to sail out onto three mile wide Lac Saint Louis, the widening in the Saint Lawrence River as it flows past the south side of Montreal Island.
Guided by the exercise, I visualized raising the main sail and the jib, the wind filling the sails and pulling the boat away from shore as I lowered the center board, held onto the tiller and the main sheet so that the boat glided smoothly into the wind and headed out. If the wind was strong enough I would soon be leaning out over the gunnels, holding tight to the tiller as the waves became bigger and their percussive rhythm against the hull picked up. But always the boat was in perfect harmony with its own moving parts and with the invigorating call of wind and waves and sunlight.
Then the exercise invited us to think of our own body, that intricate, amazing vehicle which we have been born with and which supports us on all our adventures and daily rounds.
Since I have affection for my memories of sailing miles from Montreal Island and for the wooden sailboat that made that possible, with its many parts (sails, rudder, mast, centerboard, hull, ropes, gunnels) all working in harmony with one another, then how much more appreciation does my own body deserve? I read this morning that our bodies have about 30 trillion cells—more than all the known galaxies in the universe—each cell collaborating with an overall DNA plan and each a participant that absorbs water and nutrients and relinquishes the waste products of its daily labors. Who said that the Romans invented pumped in water and pumped out waste for the streets of Rome? They were just borrowing from the harmonious workings of our own bodies?
Recently I’ve been thinking that my tendency to spin out metaphors can easily begin and end in the realm of thought. But this morning, doing an exercise called “Bending in the Four Directions” (a kind of slow motion yoga that opens the chest and gets me breathing fully), which in turn allows me to feel my body more (when I’m not just impatiently waiting for it to be finished so I can sit down), I could appreciate how—like the center board and rudder out of view beneath the surface of the lake—my lungs are bringing oxygen to the capillaries so that my heart can deliver it to every cell, including to the muscles filling my lungs with air, just as the sails of our dingy, billowing with wind, allowed me to sail out, like Winnie the Pooh, upon the adventure of another day.
Was that sudden appearance of Winnie the Pooh too off topic–like an extra in Hamlet walking to the fount of the stage and announcing “I have problems too, you know? My rent is due and this acting job doesn’t even pay minimum wage”?
My mind tends to shy away from getting too deep into the reality of living in a body and respecting it as the vehicle without which my mind would not have any foundation. I’ve been noticing that in the class on Caring there is increasingly an invitation to notice feelings. Specifically what it feels like to be caring for ourselves and what it feels like when we aren’t. This is something I know I need to work on because I so easily retreat into my mind and my thoughts. But for now I will just appreciate how remembering the pleasure of sailing, and being the beneficiary of the beautifully harmonious functioning of the boat’s participating components, helps increase my awareness of my own body as it sails through time with at least as much intricate balance and control as the billions of galaxies and interstellar clouds that—also outside my awareness—are carrying out their roles in this vast universe.