I remember when, as a nineteen-year-old college sophomore, I attended a lecture about preparing for my year abroad in Japan. The man giving the talk showed us a graph to explain the way we could expect to experience culture shock. This week, which brought a sandstorm, extremely high temperatures (coupled with wearing conservative, culturally appropriate clothing (read: scarves and long pants)), classroom management difficulties, illness, and a general feeling of malaise, the bell curve of the graph returned to my mind.
As I complained inwardly about my immediate maladies (ok, ok…I complained outwardly as well), labeling my experiences with the bell curve felt soothing. Categorizing gives the mind something to grasp, much like giving a dog a bone to chew on. But what happens when you strip away the names, the categories, and the charts, or when the dog abandons the bone? Pure experience unfurls.
If I can remember to extract my ego, my story, from the equation, I see that this is all just pure, impermanent, delicious experience. As Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said, “the bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.” I will remember that the next time I have 20 third-graders screaming, and I try to bribe the quiet ones with candy, and instead of staying quiet they complain about the flavors, or when I am sweating through my long pants in a 100-degree sandstorm and my face is caked in dust, or when I buy a fan and take it home with great enthusiasm, only to discover it doesn’t work (which I ended up returning for a different fan that works beautifully, and I have been sleeping blissfully without bug bites and stifling heat for two incredible nights in a row).
There is no ground, but there is acceptance, and with that comes gratitude and amazement. I hope I can remember this in the weeks and months to come.