Are We There Yet?
I remember being excited to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, when I was a kid. Every August, we got into our 1969 Volvo and headed off from Iowa to California. Some years the Cassidys would rent a house on the beach in Santa Cruz, and that was the center of our focus with my Mom’s family for one week. Every once in a while, the Stones would do something like that. I remember one year we gathered in Pismo Beach. One of my favorite memories of that trip is of walking on the beach with my Grandpa Stone, for whom I am named.
Most years it was a week in Mountain View with the Cassidys at their home, and a week with the Stones in Berkley at their home atop Summit Road. Fog in Berkley, ping pong in the back yard, setting up the train set, and the smell of Eucalyptus trees. And sun, time in Aunt Jamie’s pool with cousins, and lunch with my Grandad in Mountain View. A very special time to be sure.
The drive to California from Iowa was long. Inevitably, I or my siblings would ask: “are we there yet?” The answer would drift back from the front seat as Mom or Dad would remind us of the next interesting stop that was coming or suggest playing a game. In retrospect, I realize having done the same with my girls when they were young, it was a strategy to keep us distracted, so the question wouldn’t be asked too many times in a row. A way of maintaining some sense of peace in the car, so the journey could be enjoyed as much as possible.
This morning in meditation time, I started smiling as these memories tumbled into my awareness, for the first time in a long time. I realized I’ve been asking the same question of late. But instead of the drive from Iowa to California, it’s the spiritual journey from where I was, to where I think I’m headed.
This past Saturday I told a good friend I wanted to call it “separate self Saturday” since I was so caught in the noise of my separate self. I was trying to find some way of laughing about a dynamic that was frustrating me, because I kept coming to the question “are we there yet” and “when am I finally going to arrive.” It was hard for me to love that question and the energy around it because I could feel myself being pulled into separation despite the knowledge that it’s all journey, spiritually speaking.
Monday morning I was reflecting on this build up of agitation and identification with my separate self that’s been crescendoing over the last two weeks, when I looked at my day, and realized that the focus for my afternoon session with the Advanced Book Study Circle was Chapter 2 of my book: The Illusion of Separation. I started laughing out loud!!
Of course! The transmission of the book was gently supporting me in integrating even more of my separate self, supported by the powerful energy as we approach the Solstice later this month. What a wonderful gift to receive — not fully appreciated until the perspective that came with Monday morning!
Yesterday in my morning meditation, the memory of my first dog floated into my awareness. My former wife, Laura, and I got Jazz when we were living in Missoula, Montana. We went to the humane society to find a dog who was willing to play catch with a tennis ball and found a world class ball chaser. We were in love with her from the moment she fetched her first tennis ball.
My first training exercise with Jazz was to teach her that if she wanted me to throw the tennis ball, she would need to put it down between my feet. She learned within minutes. Smart dog when it came to anything related to fetching a ball.
The first time we took her to swim in one of the many lakes near Missoula, I threw a ball in and she immediately ran after it. She had never been in the water before but that didn’t stop her. Somehow she made it out to the ball, whining with each movement in the water because she couldn’t get to the ball as fast in the water, as she could on land. As she came out of the water, she put the ball between my feet, turned her head, ejected all the water she had consumed in the effort (“how did all that water fit into that little body?!” I remember wondering) and turned back to me and cocked her head to the side as if to say: “OK – I’m ready, let’s do that again.”
Jazz was an amazing dog. Her entire world was about engaging people in throwing her ball (or anything else if there wasn’t a ball around). And that’s it. If she could engage you in throwing her ball, she would set aside food, water, and her personal comfort in favor of fetching.
I remember one hot summer day in Fort Collins, we went to the park down the street. My job was to throw the ball. Her job was to bring it back to me. We did this every day. It was the complete expression of her joy, and it was part of mine too. As we did our routine, her tongue kept getting longer and longer as she tried to keep her body cool. Finally, I realized, this dog is too hot – we need to get home. On the one-block walk home, her back legs were getting stiff. She had really overexerted herself. A neighbor was watering their lawn, so Jazz walked over to the middle of their lawn and laid down and was cooled off by the sprinkler. Her ball between her paws. Only when there was no further hope of fetching was she willing to take care of her body.
Once she ran up and down a gravel road on a hill (on a private ranch – there was no traffic) so much that she literally ran the pads of her paws off. I was thrilled I’d found a way to help her release some energy and wasn’t aware there was a problem until she was lifting her feet one at a time while she was cocking her head waiting for me to throw the ball. I looked at her feet and felt horrible! How had I let my sweet dog hurt herself?! She didn’t want to stop and wasn’t happy about the bandages being applied and the forced rest in the days that followed.
When we lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming she was pursuing a ball along the back fence when she put a 12-penny nail (that fallen out of the fencing) through a front paw while she was sliding to get her ball. I didn’t know and kept playing fetch the ball with her until I tried to figure out why she was favoring her right paw. At the same house, the fence had a hole, but we didn’t worry about it, because she was committed to fetching. One afternoon we went out to let her in and she was gone. We couldn’t believe it. Panicked, we rushed to the front door to go looking for her and there she was, head cocked, looking up at our eyes, and then slowing guiding our eyes down with hers, saying: “there it is, I’m glad you’re here. I’m ready to go fetch!” She must have finally given up on the back porch, exited the hole, ran down the alley, and around the block to the front porch, figuring we’d leave the front of the house sooner than we’d open the back door. Apparently, some of the time, if you’re not getting the results you want, you have to play the odds.
Once we lived in a house with an apple tree in the back yard. Jazz would line up all her balls on the back deck on the other side of sliding door, waiting for someone to notice that she was ready to fetch. If it took us too long to respond, she would go into the yard, sit beneath the apple tree, and jump straight up into the air to pick apples – which she then brought up and placed next to the tennis balls. They were round and something she could fetch. She stayed busy doing her thing, even when we weren’t available to participate. She had a mission. It was both fun, and serious business.
Remembering Jazz yesterday reminded me of how the separate self behaves. But unlike Jazz, the separate self thinks it’s going somewhere. Jazz knew that just as soon as she could return the ball, it would be thrown again, and she could do it all over again. Pure joy, the result of a mission fully served, rather than a mission in pursuit of joy.
The separate self is on a mission too, it just thinks it’s going somewhere. When the imagined future arrives, things will change, it’s sure of that! The suffering that was once dominant will be gone. Life will be better, in some meaningful way. Every step until this happens, it wonders “are we there yet?”
Just like Jazz it will never be done. Your separate self will run the pads of its feet in pursuit of something that it can never achieve. Jazz knew the whole game was fetching, and returning with the ball, and making sure the ball was between two feet. That’s it. That was her entire game.
We don’t tend to see the game the separate self is playing so clearly.
The separate self is as faithful to its mission, as Jazz was to hers. It will keep bringing back all the aspects of your whole self that aren’t yet integrated. All the things still held in separation. The most important and essential one first. Again, and again. Until you hold it and are present with it, and can begin unwrapping it, and discovering the gift of your whole self that it keeps retrieving for you.
The gift it’s retrieving might not feel like a gift. It might feel like the most agitating thing, and you would do anything to avoid it. Being present with this gift might leave you feeling inadequate, unworthy, unlovable. Like you’re on the wrong path. Wondering when you’re going to get confirmation that you’re doing the right thing. Wondering if you’ve lost your mind. If all those skeptics in your life weren’t right. Questioning your life, and all your decisions . . .
You know what that voice sounds like, don’t you?
What it’s really saying is: HERE IS ANOTHER GIFT of WHO YOU REALLY ARE!!! Not the doubt. The doubt and fear aren’t the gift – they’re the wrapping paper. The gift is underneath the fear or the doubt – where another aspect of the whole self has been hiding.
My first dog fetched balls. The separate self fetches the whole self. Just like Jazz, it keeps bringing it back, over and over again. Until you figure out: this game isn’t about pursuing the impossible vision (that the separate self keeps projecting), it’s about holding this dissonance and being with it. Unwrapping the gift of this thing that’s agitating me. That’s leaving me feel inadequate. The part of me that is wrapped up in separation, which once unwrapped, results in the gift of more of my whole self integrated and embodied.
Then immediately the separate self fetches another gift held in separation. And again, and again. Until we’re present with it, unwrap it, and integrate it.
This is what’s been in my awareness, and unfolding in my life lately. A journey of integration, framed up in “are we there yet” along with lessons from my amazing dog, Jazz.
I was thinking about all this, this morning, and before I knew it all this was tumbling out on the page, from my heart . . .
I’m grateful we’re connected in this way. Thanks for including me in your life, and taking time to read and be present in this way, today.
In God’s Love and Presence, Further Into the Mystery—All the More Extraordinary with You!
PS – I looked for picture of Jazz for this post but could only find a picture of Jazz and Ella. Jazz is on the right (she’s eyeing a ball) and Ella’s on the left (she’s got a line on something that smells good). Amazing dogs they were – both in spirit for many years now.