He felt the bite of the words as soon as they were said. “I’m not really feeling this any more.” Or something like that. A kind of self defensive mechanism occluded his hearing and neuro processing connection. His partner was leaving him, that much was clear. At least for the time being. Toxic thoughts of inadequacy crept over him like the feeling the night before getting the flu. “I don’t make enough money” or “I don’t have a realistic ‘five year plan'” rolled in and out of his head. He loved sharing his heart and soul with her and was crushed at the prospect of it all being over. He battled with the thought.
A week before, deep in the Rocky Mountains leading a group of students, the snow felt dry underfoot as it compressed over the tops of small yellow willows. His toes were numb in stiff, frozen boots. An early fall storm had brought below freezing temperatures and several inches of snow. Shoving gear into his backpack and exhaling hot air into his stiff, aching hands, he put some thought into the several thousand feet that would be gained in these conditions to get over a high pass.
The going was slow rounding an alpine lake in the Cirque of the Towers. Snow clad gnarled spires jutted through clouds. Stone knives penetrating the white skin of the clouds into the heart of the sky. As she thought the physical distance was pulling them apart, he thought it was pulling them together. After all, they were pursuing their dreams and passions and following their hearts. Even though it wasn’t the exact same thing. Kind of like yin and yang. He was naive to think this.
Breathing heavily, several hours later the small party was at the top of the pass. Repeating a small mantra, a humility of existence blanketed him:
I cannot pretend to understand the meaning of life. I know I am meant for something; some purpose outside of myself. I know it isn’t going to involve ever making the Fortune 500 list or anything like that. I am a simple person, driven by simple desires to play outside in nature and help other people. I’m overwhelmed by greed, violence and power. I dream daily of a simpler, kinder, more tolerant world. I guess that makes me an idealist. I’m grateful to have a bed to sleep in and clean water to drink. Whatever life’s meaning, I know for me, it includes these sentiments.
To bottle up the spirit is to bottle up one of the most precious gifts of all; that of human potential. He didn’t know if the two of them would last forever and as soon as he was okay with that, he finally realized he could be happy, with or without her. That wasn’t to say that he couldn’t see them ever being married and starting a family. No, this lesson of impermanence was different than the American cultural lens through which they so often thought. “Forever” was a concept of the ego. Even the highest of mountains are impermanent and will eventually crumble into boulders, rocks and eventually sand and dust. Just like Jimi said: and so castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually. Over attachment to people and to ideas is not only a hinderance to happiness but dangerous, and he thought about the political zealots of his time. Fear of loss is one of the greatest fears of all.
Making their way down a snow covered boulder field, the group camped in a forest and eventually stamped out the snow to create a hard packed ice rink. Their simple blue and grey tents looked humble amidst the true winter conditions. The next day was bitterly cold but by noon the snow was gone, the sun warm and golden upon his stubbled face.