Each year I pick a quality to embody. I was taught this by my Sensei Wendy Palmer, sword mistress extraordinaire. Studying with Wendy was completely frustrating (for me, not her, I think. People come to her in part because they don't get it). And most of the time I just didn't get it. Not the first time, not the second, not the third. The problem being, of course, that I was trying to think things through. And she was trying to get me more into my body. The art of not-thinking. Thinking just got in the way.
She kept saying things like, "Compost stinks." Flatly. No affect. Just a commentary. A truism. While we're working on swords. I now realize that she was trying to reassure me. I studied with Wendy privately — she wasn't the Sensi at my own dojo — and I really needed her help. And she came up with 'compost stinks' and I kept not understanding her.
And so I'd think about that (instead of not-thinking).
It took many months — it took until I was working in my own garden actually composting — for me to get it. Get what she was after.
But when she said that everyone should have a quality, I knew instantly what she meant, and I knew what mine would be. Her practice is to select a quality to embody for one year. Every action, then, is enacted from the perspective of this quality. Every minute, every day, for the entire year.
My first quality was Mystery. I mean, what else would it be? It made everything exciting, everything something I'd want to know more about. Everything something that I could never know everything about. (and yes, I know, that's not a real sentence). These were followed by more banal qualities like Patience, Tolerance, Self-Discipline, and the like. Tolerance was by far the worst. It made it impossible to grade papers. Until way into the depths of Spring Semester, I realized that what I needed to discover were the limits of — not just be tolerant of any muck around me.
So. This year (this very very difficult year) my quality has been Laughter. While dealing with hospitals and hospice, caregivers, and schedules and meds and oxygen tanks and dysfunctional wheel chairs, walkers, and hospital beds — there's always something to laugh about. Funeral arrangements, grave diggers, manicured lawns, old faces I haven't seen since high school. Now, that last one is pretty funny. I've not been laughing at death and dying, per se. But the industries that we've built up around them are hysterically sad. The bureaucracy of dying. Bank forms and notaries, lawyers. Death certificates (everyone wants one!), Power of Attorney, Advance Directives. Lost car titles. Forms to retrieve lost car titles... I've found a place where laughter and being of good humor have helped. I've been smooth, and calm, with little laugh lines in the corner of my eyes. Not all the time, but enough of the time. And of course, I've also cried. But essentially, the quality of Laughter has served me well.
Until now. Right now, I have failed miserably in the embodiment of laughter. And what is it that has done me in?
And I realize now, it's not even the first time. UPS was supposed to deliver an 'overnight' letter to me six days ago. At first they claimed the delay was due to a wrong zip code. So they sent the letter back to somewhere. Next day, same thing. I mean, what's the matter with them? They fixed the zip code, and managed to add an apartment number. Following day, didn't deliver the letter because (they say) they came to the address and there was no 'apartment 5.' And then it was the weekend. And then it started all over again. Another two days, and now they say they give up: come pick up the bloody letter yourself. You have a window of a half hour this evening, if you want it today.
And I'm not laughing.
So. All that death and dying business, Aikido training, private Wendy Palmer, years of meditation. Whatever. And I'm done in by a late overnight letter.
This is the compost of which Wendy spoke. And compost, as she reminded us so often, stinks.
The letter I'm waiting for consists of a shitload of money (to me, anyway), (note the unintentional compost reference here) a check, not made out to me, but a 'rollover' to my so-called pension plan that I hope to depend on from now on. It's not the State's money, it's mine, just needing to get to the right place at the right time. And the deadline is fast approaching. And this is me just falling apart over it. And why aren't I laughing?
While most people might think of compost in terms of methods of production, I'm more concerned with its distribution.
Compost is scattered (excuse another bad pun) over the garden, mixed into the soil, and helps provide the nutrients needed for planted seeds to grow. The compost period is the duration it requires from the time you plant until the first shoots begin to come up. This is the time that Wendy is talking about. The time period during which all the growth is taking place underground where you can't see it.
All the practice. All the doing. All the preparing. And still not seeing the results manifest. Yah, that really stinks. And it feels like nothing's happening. 'Cause there's no visible sign, even after months and months of preparation.
So. I started all this retirement prep years ago really. That's what they say to do. Save for retirement, 'cause no one else is gonna take care of you when you're no longer working, right? And that letter — that letter that UPS won't deliver — is the very last step to having everything in order.
Now, that's pretty funny.
If I believed in a sentient universe, I might think the universe was sending me a message. You sure you want to do this? Or maybe the message is, you're really not there yet. Or, let's just make this as difficult as possible. Or, let's see if we can give you a heart attack before your retirement date, and just save all that money and give some of it to your kids or something. The State, of course, will want the rest.
So. It's not a conspiracy or anything like that. Not stupidity. Not incompetence. Just a misprinted label on a letter that has me at wit's end. And I'm thinking that I'm over-thinking this. Step back, head for the trails on the cliff above the ocean. Let the dog run free, and laugh. While I'm waiting for the buds to peak through the soil. But it's summer already, wasn't this supposed to happen months ago?
Next year, maybe I'll pick the Quality of Serenity or something else equally incomprehensible. That should be something to laugh about.
When all this UPS waiting is over, and all the bloody papers are filed, and everything's worked out for the best, then I'll be willing to admit, that compost doesn't really stink so bad after all. Like labor, we forget all about that part when the flowers begin to bloom.