Don’t you love self-contradictory expressions? I have publicly said several times that I have had a lifelong fascination with words and letters. All the ways they can be put together or scrambled about, like the naked 1-year-old in a high chair squishing cut-up spaghetti noodles between their fingers and toes (and wiping them all over their faces), gives me endless joy. It’s okay, you can admit it, you immediately visualized a naked 1-year-old painting him or herself with cut-up spaghetti noodles.

Crafting this title, itself being a mashup of contradiction, was inspired by a number of competing factors yet somehow brought me full circle back to a place I had once been but long ago left behind. Are you starting to see where this is headed yet? I hope so, so let’s get to it.

Almost to the day, nine years ago, I found myself walking a path at the local park because I was told it was necessary in order to improve my physical and mental health. Those of you who have been with me for a while know the story, and I won’t repeat it here- newcomers can poke around my previous entries.

The park is a general-use area, with a playground on one side, A Babe Ruth-sized baseball diamond on another, a fairly large Wacky Ball court at the northern entrance, and a sidewalk encircling the entire parcel of City-owned land. If you walk around the oval-shaped sidewalk for 3 and 1/3 laps, you will have walked a mile. I honestly don’t want to spend the time trying to calculate how many laps I have done around this place over the course of 9 years, but I do know I’ve gone through at least four pairs of high-dollar hiking shoes and can calculate well enough that many hundreds of dollars worth of shoe sole is embedded in that asphalt and cement.

In the early days of my time doing these walks, I had to become accustomed to walking with a cane and needing to build leg strength to compensate for my newfound imbalance. My only job was to walk. Having once been a high school and college soccer star (football for my UK friends), I was stunned by how much of it I had lost to my third stroke. In a lot of ways, I was on familiar ground; running (now walking) around, mindlessly, in circles with no more important task than communing with my body step after step and mile after mile was something I had done for more than a decade in my younger years.

In the world of competitive sports, there is always a period of pre-season training, after which there is a stretch of time focused on practice and scrimmage before the season schedule gets underway. Stepping through the entrance to the park in the early days of my self-rehab routine, I tried to incorporate that pre-season training attitude, but there was something terribly “wrong with this picture”; the nameless and faceless uniformed players I was preparing to defeat had been replaced, and my competition was now me.

Robert M. Pirsig is credited for the quote, “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” I mention it here because I have come to discover, about life in general and attempting to achieve a goal in particular, that there is a Perpetual truth to the idea that you get out of something only so much as you put into it. It doesn’t matter what it is you are trying to achieve nearly as much as it is how hard you are willing to push yourself to try. Implied (though not actually stated) in all this is the importance of the quality and nature of the relationship you have with yourself along the journey.

The Zen I brought with me to the entrance of that Park 9 years ago was inspired singly by the goal of prolonging my life. In pursuit of that goal, keeping me company lap after lap, was the ongoing conversation with myself about all the things that had led up to my having to be there, to begin with. It is rather entertaining and more than a little humorous to argue with yourself about all the things you could have done to avoid winding up in a place you eventually realize was unavoidable. Sooner or later, no matter how much you resist, you eventually walk around in enough circles to understand that the longer you look over your shoulder, the more time it’s going to take to get where you are headed.

Roughly six weeks ago, as many of you know, I lost my silent partner and walking companion Daisy, and after a month of mourning the loss of her, I have found myself once more at the entrance to the park, right back where I started. The Zen I brought there nine years ago served its intended purpose; I successfully improved my mental and physical health. Being here now, though, I am reminded of the expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” and I chuckle a little at the delicious irony of it all. On the one hand, a lot of things have truly changed; there are many things I can do now that were unthinkable nine years ago, but the Park is still here, and I’m still here, and I still have to walk three and a third laps to traverse a mile. Aside from Daisy’s physical absence, the only thing that’s new… That has fundamentally changed… is the Zen I’m bringing with me now.

Stepping onto the sidewalk once again, an entirely new round of conversations with myself taking place, it occurs to me that – like every one of you – the steps we take on our respective life paths are both straight lines and redundant, repetitive circles that we weave in and out of as our life moves ever forward toward its inevitable conclusion. For each of us, the Zen we bring with us along the way and “the quality and nature of the relationship you have with yourself” is destined to be the Zen we find when the journey is done. My laps ahead will contain a whole lot of “what the fuck am I gonna do with myself next?” interwoven with a boatload of ” I dunno, dude, what makes you happy? What brings you joy? What makes you spring your old blind ass out of bed first thing in the morning, with excitement and enthusiasm?”, and – along the way – there will be a whole lot more shoe soles being embedded in the sidewalk.

What about the rest of you?


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