Part 1: Chubby Hula Dancer's Last Ride
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Ever feel like life is all some absurd cartoon? Let me fill you in. This story is how my truck got stolen and how it helped me be more mindful.
See, I used to drive a wonderful old truck ('93 Nissan) which was very generously given to me in February 2006 when crisis came to visit for a winter. Different story, different day.
My truck's name was Nina cuz she was red and sultry like Nina Simone and sounded like she'd been smoking without a filter and drinking gasoline her entire life. Over the years, I'd put a little money into her to keep her running, but largely she was a wonderfully reliable part of my life.
Nina was a great old lady. She was missing a tailpipe, her radio was broken, sun visors missing, driver's side mirror broken, and one of the windows on her shell was shattered, but she started up almost every time. It was a stark moment when I realized that the exterior had reached such a point of dereliction that washing her would only harm her more.
I had a constant companion riding shotgun in this rusty ride. Affixed to the dash was Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer. Over the years I'd learned that we share a love for jazz organ music. I know this because that's when did her best dancing. I mean she REALLY got into it. I'd often car-dance along with her but I couldn't compare to the sweet moves of Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer.
Another fun feature of my ride was the sticker on the back window which read 1". You know those stickers people post on the back of their cars that simply say 26.2? They are bragging rights for those who have trod the distance of a marathon. Well, I made a sticker in the same style that simply read 1". And yes, in a hyper-masculine world of lift kits and truck nuts it takes someone very secure in his manhood to roll around town with a 1" sticker on the back of his truck.
The sticker is a references to one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry called "A Spiritual Journey."
"A Spiritual Journey"
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet,
and learn to be at home.
To me, this poem reminds me that the greatest journey I will ever travel or the greatest place I might ever hope to arrive is the distance of 1", to the ground at my own feet, the awareness of my True Self, the real, Divine me, and to feel at home in my own heart, and to know whatever lives there.
Honeymoon is Over
So, in August of 2014 my wife and I were living in Salt Lake City. We'd only been married for a few months and already we had been through tremendous highs and lows. Literally one week prior to getting married, I'd closed the doors on the two yoga studios I owned, both of which had been limping along for years. But getting married was bliss and we'd just come home from our honeymoon to Greece and Spain where we lay on the beach, ate pastries with abandon, and fell deeper in love with each other.
Before getting married, I had been under enormous stress and now, back from our honeymoon, I was eager to move forward in my life with more bliss, happiness and stability.
Not long after coming home from our honeymoon, Seneca's car, received a terminal diagnosis from the auto shop and we decided to sell it—I posted it online and it sold in 14 minutes for cash. So, for a few weeks were sharing my truck. Sharing a car made getting around a little tricky but we managed. Compared to the stress I'd already had that summer, the stress of sharing a car was nothing.
Super-human Core Strength
One Saturday we decided to drive my truck down to the Farmers Market. We parked and walked the few blocks over to buy our produce.
On our way back, we returned to the place I'd parked my truck and it wasn't there. Instead, it was parked about 100 feet away in a different spot. Confused, I started to think through the possibilities: Had I left the truck out of gear? Maybe it started to roll and someone had kindly parked it on flat ground for me? Was I parked illegally and law enforcement had moved it? Was there a free valet service at the Farmers Market? I hadn't given anybody my keys.
None of these options made sense and as I got closer to my truck I saw someone milling about it and it dawned on me what was happening—someone was stealing my truck at that moment!
I broke into a dead sprint toward my truck and the Truck Thief. Truck Thief saw that his heist's owner was bearing down toward him and panicked. He immediately jumped into the cab and started the engine. I saw that he had parked in front of a large concrete barrier and couldn't move forward and I soon arrived arrived to the back of the truck before he could back up preventing him from getting away. I began to scream at him to stop stealing my truck.
At that moment, Truck Thief and I had the exact same thought: There's no way to steal this truck with someone standing behind it. Truck Thief soon thought of a different option, one I had not considered up to that point, which was to run over the lesser of the two obstacles blocking his way (read the crazy dude standing with his hands on the back, screaming). Without a hesitation, Truck Thief threw Nina into reverse and floored it. Fortunately the tires we pretty bald, giving me a warning screech and a half of a second delay to jumped out of the way.
As the truck whizzed past me, I did the first thing that came to mind which was to grab onto the half-rolled window on the driver's side and proceeded to run with him as he was backing at an incredible speed. I don't know what I was hoping for with that desperate action. I'm a yoga teacher and I know that with enough core strength you can do anything. Perhaps I thought that if I could just lift the car up, immobilizing all four wheels, I could hold it there until the cops came. For a brief second we were our faces were mere inches apart. And though I was so close, I honestly can't say what his face looked like because it wildly distorted with a look that said, "Holy shit! That dude's running next to me and holding onto the window while I'm stealing his ride!"
He then popped the truck into gear and shot off, ripping my hands from the window and tearing out of the parking lot then down the road like a fugitive, leaving me standing there like an idiot—but an idiot who didn't get ran over. Seneca stood 50 feet away and watched the entire event transpire in complete horror.
After it was all done, we stood there staring at each other with a look like, "Well, that just happened." It was over in 10 seconds or less.
We called the police. They filed a report.
Then we walked a half block to one of Salt Lake City's best coffee shops, The Rose Establishment, to have some coffee and wait for someone to come and give us a ride. While waiting for our ride, I posted on social media, "Because when someone has just stolen your truck, you deserve a really nice cup of coffee." While waiting for the baristas to make our brew, it dawned on me that in a matter of two weeks, we had gone from having two cars, to one, to none. And while we don't mind walking, it feels differently when you gotta walk cuz someone ripped off your ride.
Here's where this get's a little deep. This might sound out there but, even while my truck was being stolen and then directly after, I felt a strange sense of grand awareness about the whole thing. Even while it was happening, I could see that in the big picture, what's true is that getting your truck stolen really isn't that big a deal. In fact, in some ways it feels completely absurd, like I'm staring in my own cartoon, as my friend Nan puts it. I'm sure I'd feel differently if the guy had ran over me.
Yet with the very same awareness that getting your truck stolen is ultimately inconsequential, came the realization that what is also true is that my smaller self has real and intense feelings about getting my truck stolen. Despite my intermittent "grand awareness," the stoic and bland "it-is-what-it-is" mindset doesn't cut it with me. Not entirely. "What it is" sucks! And to deny that is to deny the part of me that despite not having the grand awareness, still exists, at least to some degree.
Yoga and meditation has taught me not to deny my feelings but rather to drink them in and thereby use them to illuminate the True Self, tools for practicing being aware.
Awareness of the True Self is actually about freedom. The freedom , for example, is to be absolutely present with emotions, not to deny them. So with that in mind, I felt free to choose to be mindfully pissed off and honored my primal need to shout loudly through my clenched teeth every four letter word I know . . . besides love . . . and hope . . . and nice.
I wonder if Truck Thief was thinking to himself, "I'm very mindfully pinching this dude's ride. Vrrr-Ommmmmm."?
As I saw my truck reseed into the distance, my 1" sticker reminded me that the crucial step along the journey toward the True Self is to be at home in my heart and to learn to be comfortable with everything as just it is. This spiritual journey of 1", like Wendell Berry says, is "arduous, humbling and joyful by which I arrive at the ground at my feel and learn to be at home." And at that moment I was forced into learning this lesson which lay at my feet because for the unforeseeable future, I would be walking.
Driving It Home
May our practice, whether on or off the mat, be to strive to always experience this "arduous, humbling and joyful" journey of the human experience to the fullest, and use the events which befall us as tools to become ever more aware of our True Self. Be the small self of emotions and the True Self with the grand perspective. Practice this and be responsible and kind to other people.
Sometimes this life really does feel like some wild Sponge Bob Square Pants episode that the Divine is Netflixing alone on some late night while drinking a beer and eating some non-GMO corn chips and salsa.
In the big picture getting my truck stolen wasn't very important. I actually enjoyed riding my bike for a while, burning off some of the pastries I ate while on my honeymoon, and simultaneously burning off some of the anger resulting from getting my ride pinched.
I'm sure Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer never danced for Truck Thief as wildly as she did for me.
And while I pedaled around Salt Lake City, I hoped that Truck Thief would return my truck with a full tank of gas.
The story continues . . .
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