A Dose of Ambivalence

Erin and I were back in Minnesota this past weekend, and we had a wonderful time. On the drive home I was extremely tired and had a caffeine headache – long story. We returned to our humble abode on the edge of the hood, but definitely in the hood – and started to unpack. I heard the woodpecker who works on the telephone poll across the street all Summer long, he apparently having returned from wherever it is that woodpeckers go in the winter. After a quiet, peaceful few days, it was nice to hear that bit of nature in the city.

Then it started. People yelling outside when there is no need to yell, children and adults. I really don’t care if “he got six kid on dat bike,” I really don’t, and I surely don’t need to hear someone shouting about it on the street. While like all good white liberals I like living in the city and believe I have grown quite a bit for living here, I am beginning to understand that the constant yelling and screaming is taking a toll on me, as is the almost total lack of nature, silence, or harmony. There’s a large part of me that wants to yell “STFU!!!” out my door and go postal on anyone who doesn’t obey. It really doesn’t matter to me that it’s simply a cultural difference, it is wearing on my spirit.

The truth is, though, that this is the economic reality of my current life. The country has a profound appeal, but it’s also profoundly far away from the things my family does – like work, for one. There’s also the truth that with the isolation of the country comes a certain level of prejudice, interpersonal bigotry and, well, small mindedness  that would be even more difficult for me to handle than the constant noise of the street.

Much of my decreased level of tolerance is surely because my pain level is way up. I can’t find anywhere comfortable to sit in my home, though because we stayed in the Hilton Airport in Minneapolis/St. Paul I was treated to a Herman Miller chair to sit in. For those of you who don’t know – to be honest, until my physiatrist told me about his Herman Miller chair I didn’t know – when a person with back pain sits in a Herman Miller chair they often experience spontaneous orgasm. I quickly logged onto eBay and learned that I, too, could have a chair just like the one I was sitting in for between six and eight hundred dollars. Six to eight hundred dollars for a desk chair is something I have a hard time justifying, orgasm or not. In fact, for six hundred dollars…well, never mind.

Pain makes everything harder to cope with, and so is an excellent subject for spiritual practice. Sometimes, though, the pain can either be hard to approach directly or hard to identify as the source of the problem. At times like that, it helps to start at the symptom and work backward. In this case, start with the chaos of the street and watch my reaction to it and how it changes in order to identify the real issue. After all, there are some times when the chaos of the street is hardly noticed. If a spiritual practice is alive and vital, we should be able to point it at any point of conflict in our life and observe – not to judge it, or cause it to cease, or change it in any way, but just to watch it. In watching it we befriend it, which is much more effective that trying to ignore it or push it away, which just causes more stress and agitation.

I guess we know what I will be watching.

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