Monday, February 11, 2019

The Edge of Comfort

I’ve endured my share of rigorous marathon-like exploits in my life. 

My first 7-day Zen meditation retreat, for example, atop a wintry Mt. Baldy in thin robes, awakening at 3 am, going to bed close to midnight, sitting with pained legs for most of those waking hours getting whacked by a stick if I moved and meeting the enigmatic, non-English speaking Roshi four times a day to be immediately dismissed after giving the wrong answer to his unanswerable questions. 

Then there was Day 2 of the Machu Picchu hike, a steady ascent in the cold rain on stairs made for giants while the native porters whisked by with heavy loads on their back, the equally painful descent, all of this with a bad stomach for some 26 miles and me 62 years old. 

I should throw in the terror of being asked to teach 30 preschoolers in Taiwan whom I had never met in front of 150 teachers and parents watching. For an hour. 

You get the idea. 

So when I treated myself to a walk through my old beloved city on a sunny day after constant rain, I was mildly complaining about the cold—it was perhaps 44 degrees out! Okay, it’s a 100 degrees more than many places in the Midwest recently, but still it felt cold to me. So as I walked by Aquatic Park, I couldn’t help but notice the members of the Dolphin Club swimming in the freezing cold water—without a wet suit. I had three reactions:

1)   I feel ashamed that I was complaining to myself that I was a little chilly. What a wimp I am! I’m amazed by you willingly subjecting yourself to this and admire your strength and daring and ability to endure something so painful. What discipline! What determination! What fortitude!

2)   I am indeed impressed by your iron constitution, but hey, to each his own. It’s not my way. And perhaps sitting on the meditation pillow or hiking by my side up Machu Picchu and certainly standing in front of those 30 Taiwanese preschoolers, you might be admiring me.

3)   Are you people out of your freakin’ mind?!!! What’s wrong with you??!!! Why in Gods’ name would you ever willingly throw yourself in that water when you could be at home by a warm fire reading about an expedition to Antartica?

But I do get that there is a strange kind of pleasure in testing the limits of the human body, of going far beyond reasonable comfort and testing your mettle, of feeling more alive when you’re doing something hard. As for me, I’m not the least bit interested in scaling Mt. Everest, but neither do I seek life on a beach 24/7 sipping Mai Tais. I like to go to the edge of comfort, be it physical, mental or emotional and see what’s out there. Sometimes cross over into yet more danger and excitement, sometimes just peek and be happy to sit back down.

But there’s no way you’ll get me to join the Dolphin Club. Give me the Taiwanese preschoolers any day.

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