How do I find the words to describe a week that spanned from the stunningly deep silence of canyon wanderings to the vibrant, almost abusive, cacophonous stimulation of Las Vegas? From a gentle dawning light of day dancing on ever reddening sandstone boundaries to the honking, flashing, clanging sea of lights and sound magnified by ever-present mirrors? From connection woven on the dabbling loom of a desert stream to street corner rudeness tempered strong through separation?
Indeed, the transition from backpacking in Escalante canyon country in Utah with a dear friend was abrupt and fostered membership in the “Bad Attitude Club” as we headed back to the confines of the concrete world of Las Vegas. It was initially hard to make peace with the locale of our Association for Experiential Education conference being situated on the glitzy Strip of Sin City with the only nature in sight being waterfalls and volcanoes formed from fiberglass molds and carpets of artificial grass. It was a challenge to move beyond instant grumpiness and overstimulation to a place of openness to what could unfold if I let it.
When I stopped the almost constant river of complaining between my two ears, I could grasp the sweet song of the two birds nested outside the hotel window. When I slowed enough to really look, I saw the blessing that our aging hotel still had windows that opened and I could invite “real” air into the room (as well as more bird song).
I am reminded of a quote of Terry Tempest Williams that I copied down at the Escalante Visitor’s Centre, “When one of us says ‘Look, there is nothing out there, what we are really saying is, ‘I cannot see.” It is often hard to be where we are not comfortable. To close down. To write off. To go into survival mode. To stop seeing.
That was my struggle this week as I moved from an environment that many of my friends would describe as hard, unwelcoming, and empty to one that many of my friends would love that I would describe as hard, unwelcoming, and empty. When you fly through Pearson airport in Toronto, each jetway is adorned with ads for Hong Kong Bank that feature two disparate images such as a rock musician and a Indian sitar player coupled with words such as noise and music. To one set of ears, rock is music and to another it is noise. To many, Las Vegas is the vacation destination of choice and to others (i.e. me) it raises questions about the fate of humanity.
I often profess to the value of being uncomfortable and to seeking opportunities to practice staying with the discomfort. The ability to tolerate discomfort (of any and many sorts) gives us much greater latitude in our lives to see new perspectives, question our values, and see in new ways. Sitting here in the Las Vegas airport peering out to the mountains that frame the backdrop of the Strip, I am grateful for the humbling reminder of “However I do anything is how I do everything.” (Not sure who said that-I’ve seen various attributions for the quote on the web)
If I close to the challenges of being in Las Vegas, what else do I close myself off to? What connections am I missing? Who I am missing? What I am not seeing?
I leave this week with a renewed commitment to accept the invitation that appears at the bottom of my Buddhist Personal Trainer’s email (Congrats to Susan in her new journey as grandmother)…
The everyday practice is simply to develop complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without reservations or blockages so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself.
–Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Thanks and have a great week!