Saturday, April 4, 2009

beyond the limits

Last week, I watched bits and pieces of a mountain-climbing documentary called, "Disaster on K2." Thirty climbers attempted to reach the summit of the second highest mountain in the world. Eleven survived. And someone filmed a lot of it.

One of the climbers observed, approximately, that people need to test their limits if they want to feel most alive. To break the boundaries. To challenge themselves. To succeed where success was dubious. To stop being nagged and at last, from some deep well, go "ahhhhh!"

Beyond the limits.

How exciting Ernest Hemingway seemed to find his various death-defying hunting expeditions in Africa. His adventures made him feel alive. I wonder if that was part of why he committed suicide.

Once anyone has gone beyond the limits, it seems to me that what they have largely accomplished is to set new limits. The habit of limitation is just too strong.

Maybe the more courageous and frightening course is to live within the limits -- to find a fresh richness within the same-ol' same-ol'. This may be more challenging than climbing even the highest mountain or shooting even the wildest beast... to discover the ahhh within the bleah. But is even this enough?

Who does not regret the things they have done?

Who does not regret the things they have left undone?

Who is not lonely and pining for a requited smile?

Last night I read a story on the news wires about sheep-shearing in America. The wool market is depressed (people wear more synthetic clothing) and in addition, it is harder and harder for sheep farmers to find the (largely) men who know how to shear sheep. Farmers have to line up for shearing services. There are fewer than 200 shearers in the United States, one farmer guessed. No one wants to learn the trade. It's hard work and it's seasonal and, well, where's the adventure in that? Most of America's sheep-shearers come from New Zealand and Australia, with a few from Ireland as well.

The top gun sheep-shearer sheared 721 sheep in nine hours. Talk about climbing K2!

I love it when people do things I've never heard of or even thought to do. I am curious ... even about what I perceive as the incuriosities of others. I too am sorry for the things I have done and sorry for the things I have left undone. I too like to think I have gone beyond the limits or been hobbled within them. But...

I am encouraged by my Zen teacher's response when I asked him how things differed from the beginning of his meditation practice to the moment when I asked how things differed. He said that in the beginning there were all sorts of physical and mental pains (all sorts of regrets and hopes and limits) and now ... well now ...

"It's laughing all the time."

How could anyone limit or be limited by laughter?

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