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old dog learns new tricks

Walking alone for seven straight day on unfamiliar terrain offers many opportunities for disappointments. Not everything works out as planned. Examples are: not too hot but no rain; neither mud nor asphalt please; clear signs to show the way; the ‘right’ overnight accommodation to come along at the ‘right’ price; etc. Every event that unfolds in unexpected ways offers the opportunity to awaken to what’s actually happening, not what I imagine or fear.

You may recognize this formula: expectation → disappointmentsuffering

If things don’t work out the way I (my ego) expect them to, disappointment can cause suffering. The little voice laments: Why does this always happen to me? How stupid can I get? I hate this place. And yet, the shift does not have to occur automatically. In the split second before suffering sets in, I have the choice to realize that very little is actually my or anyone’s fault! In fact, most events are not about me at all. It’s merely the small and insecure voice within that’s trying to fit the world in its narrow field of vision.

Being on my own this trip, away from the familiar, I’ve been treating my often fragile ego with loving kindness. When things went awry, I’ve laughed. When my mind wanted to go to an injured place, I’ve talked to my/self in German, made funny voices, and even sang a silly song. It worked … 95% of the time!

p.s. As if on request, this morning brings new disappointment. A week ago, family members agreed to come by train to spend the day with me near the end of the hike. Lat night, by phone, they inform me that a key member “has to play golf today” and that the get-together is off. Plans for the next week (my last days here) are also in disarray. My reaction is disbelief, then anger. I’ve lived up to my end of the arrangements and changes were made without consultation. …. exhale …. This is old family stuff, dysfunctional at best. Alcohol is part of the equation, so is a history of things-best-left-unsaid. … Exhale some more … and remember the ancient practice of metta, loving kindness. Exhale, inhale, sit still, listen to the heart, feel the sensation of exclusion, of sadness over the disconnect with the one family I have.

Metta practice begins with paying attention to our own heart. Paying attention to the breath, say “May I be free from fear” or “May I be free from sadness” or whatever suits the occasion. …. After a little while of this, “May I be at ease” … three times, accompanied by gentle inhale and exhale. Then “May I be happy,” noting the breath going in and flowing out. Now repeat, while keeping the other (my brother, say, or his wife) in my mind’s eye. …. “May X be free from fear” … breathe … “”May she be at ease” …. breathe … “May he be happy” … noting breath and the gentle softening in the heart space.

Practicing Loving Kindness begins by taking care of myself before extending loving thoughts to others. It helps open my heart of compassion by diffusing self-centred anger and generating compassion towards my brother and sister-in-law. Deep bow to them for bringing me back to basics.



8 responses »

  1. I have been following your journey, and I am amazed that you take the time in your hike/walk to find a place to sit down and write, to communicate to the world outside of your realm of being what is going on for you inside and out!
    I bow to your strength and you wisdom. I know it is not always easy, yet you are an example to me and to many perhaps how to Be in the world…

    I am grateful for every step you take, as well as every word you share here on your blogs. I read almost everyday, hold the essence of what you have written to walk and inform me throughout my day!
    I am Love, Jeff

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Jeff. You are love. My heart rejoices at reading your words of appreciation and encourgement. May you be happy with every step. Peter

  3. And deep thanks to you Peter, for the opportunity to ask myself: What is family? who is my family?

  4. I have blood relations but my friends are my family

  5. dear ella and malcolm … a topic as deep as the ocean.

    On this walk I’ve been reading Vancouver MD Gabor Mate’s book When the body says No about the “cost of hidden stress” (particularly as manifested in cancers), where he writes:

    “In the parent-child interaction is established the child’s sense of
    the world whether this is a world of love and acceptance, a world of
    neglectful indifference in which one must root and scratch to have
    one’s needs satisfied or, worse, a world of hostility where one must
    forever maintain an anxious hypervigilance. Future relationships will
    have as their templates nerve circuits laid down in our relationships
    with our earliest caregivers” p. 207.

  6. dear peter, what a disappointment, I feel for you. yes, we are conditioned by our early childhood experience, I know very well how this goes….have struggled with it for years… AND… we can remember to see things from a different perspective – you have a global family, who care about you, deeply appreciate your wisdom and honesty and send you love and metta on your journey.

  7. dear fiona,

    each day brings new experiences, some disappointing, some surprisingly joyful. and so it is with this family. we re-connected yesterday as they met me at the conclusion of my walk — and we had a wonderful day together. it’s hard work not to want to crawl into my shell to hide but to open myself again and again to the risks of being in relationships. one step at a time.

    ps: remind me, please, the next time i’m discouraged :-).


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