One day at work, I made the mistake of asking a patient a question the answer to which was a detailed description of his near-Whipple surgery. As happens now and then, I began to feel sort of queasy and urgently distressed. (This actually was the first time this has happened since I got this job; it happened two or three times during Clinical Pastoral Education.) I thought I might have to say, “Oh! I just remembered I have to wash my hair,” and leave the room. But instead—I was pleased with how this worked out—I consciously made room for the intense sensations in my own body, and gently directed his story away from the mechanics of his surgery by calling attention to other aspects of his experience, such as his emotions, and, thankfully, he forgot to finish explaining what his surgeon had done.
The shoes I wear for work are Ecco men’s shoes which I have found very comfortable for more than a year, but a few months ago, as I was tromping up and down the stairs at the hospital, I suddenly began to have pain in two of my toes, including a big toe. I consulted my father, who has made quite a study of foot comfort and health—once again, I must remark that my parents, between them, know everything—and he said I might want to try Lems shoes. This stands for Live Easy and Minimal; their shoes are zero drop and have roomy toe boxes. My father, my mother, and at least one of my siblings wear the Lems Primal 2 and love them, so I got a pair. (They run small, so I got one European shoe size larger than the largest European size I have ever worn, and that was perfect.)
They are incredibly comfortable and my toe pain is 98 percent gone. I can feel everything through the soles, which seems like it might cause discomfort, and it still might, but so far, there are no ill effects, and while I’m wearing them, my feet and my whole self feel fantastic. When I was leaving Rainbow recently, a fellow with long blond hair came along and said, “Nice rack!” (He meant my bike rack.) He looked like the type of person that San Francisco used to be crammed with, who now have vanished. It was so striking to see such a person that I thrust out my hand and introduced myself. I wondered who he was, where he lives, what he does. Maybe he just looks like a hippie-anarchist but is actually a venture capitalist or the CEO of a tech company.
I said to him, “I see that you, like myself, are wearing zero-drop shoes!” I added that it seems like I’m in a better mood when I wear my Lems. He agreed enthusiastically. He said, “Yes, I feel grounded, but also whooo!” and here he grinned and gestured toward his head, indicating how it might joyfully float off into space due to the good vibes coming from his feet.
On a beautiful sunny day, I went in a Zipcar to Novato to see Carol-Joy. We had breakfast at Toast; I had huevos rancheros. Then we went to see Ocean’s Eight. We saw the trailer for the new Tom Cruise Mission Impossible film—I’m totally seeing that—and also a trailer for a movie about an army chaplain! I will have to see that, as well. After the movie, we went to her house to play cards, and then back to Toast for dinner. I had a spinach salad and bleu cheese fries. Both were delicious.
Because I’m studying in a Zen context for the next couple of years and having to attend a sesshin yearly, I’ve decided to practice zazen instead of a more Theravadan manner of meditating. As far as I can tell, this mainly means having less focus on an object, and sitting with my eyes open. (Since drafting this post, I’ve decided it means having quite upright posture (which I usually have, anyway), not moving, and being aware that I am sitting. Maybe one big difference is making a point of not moving.) At first, I really didn’t like sitting with my eyes open. I’ve tried it before, and it seemed not special enough: Here I am, sitting on a chair, seeing what’s in front of me. How is this different from any other moment of the day?
I have gradually realized that its very ordinariness is what makes it so powerful. This is more or less what I do the rest of the day, so there is the opportunity while sitting to observe my wish that something more profound or more thrilling or more unusual would happen, and to remind myself that just this is my life.
And then the rest of day, I can practice doing what I did while meditating, which is to be aware that I am present in a body, seeing stuff and hearing stuff—to spend fewer moments lost in thought, which is directly applicable to my work as a chaplain, but also has slowly but surely increased a sense of dazzled wonder: Wow! I see this! I hear this! I am awake! This is my life!