The flooding in Boulder, CO and surrounding communities has killed a few people, ruined roads and displaced multitudes. Countless others bail water and dispose of sewage contaminated carpets and furnishings as the rain continues to fall. Being on a flood plain, many are uninsured for such a calamity, one that continues to unfold, whose final toll of lives and property is still to be determined.
Last weekend, before the disaster began, frustration and anger poured across my emotional landscape. I was annoyed at myself for not having found a suitable place to live after my summer rental ended. Although a friend generously offered me a small room in her home as a stopgap, which I accepted, and for which I was thankful, it was intended to be very temporary. The thought of moving again weighed me down, not knowing where I would land next filled me with paralyzing dread, and I was practically choking with self-recrimination for creating more uncertainty in my life. I was hostage to self-hatred, unable even to write. But, having slept in a different place nearly every night during the six weeks I walked the Camino de Santiago, I wondered if, along with my grubby hiking pants, I had left my sense of adventure in Spain.
What, really, was the difference?
Moving can be challenging and disorienting, but that same disorientation is a chance to shake things loose, be it possessions, attitudes or habits that no longer serve. Each new albergue or living arrangement offers a mixture of promise and problems, even if the latter is simply figuring out how to best fit into a tight space, maneuvering in a different kitchen, or avoiding snoring pilgrims or squeaky floorboards at night. Could I focus on the possibilities rather than fixating on feeling adrift and unanchored? As a meditator and Buddhist student, I can glibly regurgitate that all is impermanent. Clutching and clinging or wishing things were different doesn’t help and frequently makes things worse. Still, despite years of spiritual practice, my central nervous system is not yet able to completely relax with the ebb and flow of experience, to release into the next moment without kicking and screaming. In times of transition, it tends to seize up when I most need it to shimmy and salsa with life.
Last week, sitting dry inside my friend’s house and glancing at reports online of mounting danger as rain fell relentlessly, something shifted. That I did not own a house here filled me with relief. That I was not renting someone’s potentially water logged home also felt like a theoretical weight had lifted. That I had not, on a whim, rented a mountain cabin was now a huge bonus. That most of my belongings were stacked in a dry storage unit in Denver, until further notice, suddenly made me feel lucky, not ‘down on my luck’. That an anticipated house-sitting opportunity in a stunning canyon near Boulder had fallen through was no longer a deep disappointment, but a chance to exhale at a near miss. The old mining property I thought I’d be care-taking was nestled along a creek in the 100-year flood plain, and it’s quite possible the raging waters took a chunk from the historic home. Suddenly, I started to relax into the freedom offered by my interim situation. For the first time in weeks, I felt some ease as the grip of anxiety loosened. I remembered my Zen teacher’s advice to move at the pace of the breath, to just take the next step, without weighing it down with judgment or tripping over analysis. Let life lead. I didn’t need to do any more than that, and hadn’t the Camino taught me the same?
Last night, towards the end of Yom Kippur, when I was faint from fasting, my breath stale and mouth dry, the rabbi asked us to find a partner to discuss part of the service. I’m not a big talker even when I feel well, and even less inclined when I’m struggling with discomfort, but I got up from my seat and moved next to a woman whose grey hair fell in tight ringlets around her face, worn and lined. Slumped in her chair, she told me she had barely slept in days and had finally made it out of Lyons, CO, a town isolated by the floods, on the heels of an army escort that offered a narrow window for evacuation. She wouldn’t be allowed back to her home for three weeks, but she had wanted to hear the Shofar, the blowing of the ram’s horn that marks the end of the fast. I started to ask her a question but she interrupted me.
“Could you give me a hug?”
I stopped talking and held her small frame close. We were both unmoored, she by chance and I by choice. I didn’t know whether to feel more grateful that she appeared in my world or that I showed up in hers.