Sometimes we are simply too close to be able to see clearly, it is as if our breath fogs the glass we want to look through, we need to get some distance. Is this a good thing or is this a bad thing? it is hard to know. As I look back on life, I look back on things that in the moment seemed terrible, but as I reflect on them from where I am now, the view is so much different. I remember clearly the scene from “the dead poet’s society” when Robin Williams asks the students to stand up on their desks to change their point of view. As I look across my life, I realize I am moving from desk to desk to desk, and looking around, and the view, is always, different.
The order’s read Dugway Proving Ground Utah, and it was really at the edge of the earth. It was 45 minutes from the nearest town, and 1.5 hours from Salt Lake City. It was so distant from everything for good reason, the work that this post was engaged in, well, it was best if it was set off a way, from the world. As we drove over the Oquirrh Mountains, switching back and forth, left and right as we climbed, it was night after a long day’s drive, and the sun had already set. There were no lights along this road, and the little two lane that took us toward our new home was not really all that wide. The night sky over the Utah desert was magnificent, more stars than could be imagined, especially as we crossed the pass and began our descent. In the distance, some 10 miles off to the west, the lights of Dugway could be seen, and the straight road through the valley was dark across that gulf, no another car could be seen making its way toward us. We stopped at the lonely post gate, where the two roads toward post came together, the one we travelled, and the one form the north, from the great Salt Lake. The guard looked over our orders, and gave us directions to our temporary quarters where we would stay until our household goods arrived. On that first morning when we woke up, and stepped out to see this world in the broad daylight, I was pretty sure it was a mistake to have asked to come here. It was desolate, it was the high desert, and it was a long way from everywhere. The four years we spent in this place, it changed our lives forever. It was here, in this remote clinic, that I fell in love with Family Medicine. It was here, that Nancy learned and trained in Dressage, and we became so deeply involved with horses that they have defined the last twenty-one years of our lives. I learned to become a doctor in this remote place, I learned to become the kind of doctor I wanted to become, and during the four years in which we lived and worked on this post, we learned a great deal about ourselves and about life.
I have been too quick, in the past, to pass judgement on the value of things as they happen. I see them in the moment, and I say ‘Oh, this is terrible, it will never work out’ or ‘This is great, it is the best thing ever’ and so very often, I have absolutely no idea exactly how anything will go. In fact, my record for being right in my predictions of gloom or glory are right around 90%... wrong that is. An old Taoist story goes like this:
An old Chinese farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his only horse broke through the fence and ran away. When his neighbours learned of it, they came to the farmer and said, “What bad luck this is. You don’t have a horse during planting season.” The farmer listened and then replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?”
A few days later, the horse returned with two other horses. When the neighbours learned of it, they visited the farmer. “You are now a rich man. What good luck this is,” they said. The farmer listened and again replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?”
Later that day, the farmer’s only son was thrown from one of the stallions and broke his leg. When the neighbours heard about it, they came to the farmer. “It is planting season and now there is no one to help you,” they said. “This is truly bad luck.” The farmer listened, and once more he said, “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?”
The very next day, the emperor’s army rode into the town and conscripted the eldest son in every family. Only the farmer’s son with his broken leg remained behind. Soon the neighbours arrived. Tearfully, they said, “Yours is the only son who was not taken from his family and sent to war. What good luck this is…” to which the farmer replied “Good luck, bad luck. Who knows?
These days, I am much slower in my determination of what is good and what is bad, I may wait for a couple of years to begin to develop an opinion, and in that patience, something wonderful has happened. As I wait, I do not look at events and layer upon them the beliefs of goodness or badness, I try to see them as they are in this moment. I am here, this thing is happening, and that is all. In withholding an opinion, I also decrease the baggage that things carry as I move through my life. I do not have to carry the baggage of some ‘terrible thing’ and I do not have to worry about the loss of some ‘wonderful thing’. I just meet each thing as it arises, and in doing just that, my load is much lighter. In time, the value of each thing becomes apparent, and in time, I can look back upon what has happened and see it as lesson in my life, fitting so neatly into the puzzle that is being assembled as I go. I do not have to understand it all right now, and because of this, I also do not have to fix it, or act on it, or do anything more than simply notice, and in noticing, I have everything I need for this moment, everything exactly as I need it.
If any of resonates for you, and you happen to be curious, and wish to study it more, do not hesitate to drop me a line. If you would like to know more about my work, or to work with me, feel free to contact me. I post regularly to Instagram (@gilgrimes), Twitter (gilgrimes) and Facebook (gilgrimes) about whatever arises from my meditation each day. And if you would like to stay in touch sign up for my newsletter (probably once or twice a month at most).