Rendered Fat Content


"Enlightenment ain't all it's cracked up to be."

I suppose that we all live within some degree of trance, never fully mindful, never completely unaware. I think of myself as fairly fully present here, though I suspect that I'm a poor judge of my own reliability as a witness on this subject. I can get so focused upon completing a task or reaching some objective that I know I'm tuning out some of the outside world, though I doubt that I could accurately assess the magnitude of all I ignore when in active pursuit. I think of this focusing as a kind of streamlining, and while my little mind game makes me no more aerodynamic or svelte, I experience a slipperier passage than I suspect I otherwise might. I can also catch myself nurturing little grudges as my little personal sacrifices fail to fuel the easy successes I imagine them worthy of receiving.

I'm focused upon end results now, with less than a week remaining in our presence here in this grand delusional kitchen makeover.
This effort presented the opportunity to undo precedents ranging from the mildly annoying to the utterly disgusting. We've been powering through formerly deep senses of powerlessness, changing the way things are and always have been for the duration of our stewardship so far. Houses mostly exist at rest, with changes perhaps at most pending but almost never actually manifesting. That door we should have replaced years ago remains. The complaints become a part of the expected patter, losing over time their ability to motivate any response beyond a complacent nod in acknowledgement that something needs changing someday, not today and probably not tomorrow, but definitely some indistinct someday.

When the long rusted-shut gates to change finally squeak open, over-long foregone change suddenly becomes the new normal. Nothing escapes the scrutiny of the tightly-focused homeowner then, as if the lengthy derelictions of duty produce an over-dedication to an unnecessary and historically unprecedented perfection. Nits suddenly become significant. Molehills become mountains. Sensibilities stop making any sense at all, as if the power to turn the old hovel into a castle had passed into hands starving for retribution. We really should fix that, too, we think, as long as the gates are open.

We either become more human or less human under this influence. I can't tell. I'm about three quarters production machine right now, tightly focused upon completing my meager tasks so as to not end up being the reason the job never got done or got done improperly. I have no idea what I'm doing much of the time, for the appearance of a contractor did not negate my decades of inexperience. I can barely operate a screwdriver, yet I have elected myself responsible for swaths of the work and I feel completely dedicated to not letting anyone down. I'm finishing doors, windows, and other trim, a job that safely isolates me from the business end of the reconstruction. I live in semi-isolation in my self-proclaimed Paint Shop, three crate sides propped up to provide space to prep then prop freshly painted pieces.

I live these days at the end of an orange extension cord which finds devilish ways to frustrate my efforts. It catches on the splayed legs of my wobbly saw horses, sometimes unplugging itself with an impish pop. I might not notice until my paint remover goes cold in my laser-focused hand. I stomp around the half-stripped door to rectify the situation a few times each hour, spooling up a little more each time. My work space seems especially designed to frustrate my efforts, though my lack of skill in the crafts I employ better explains my slower than expected progress. Everything naturally takes at least twice as long as expected but I seem incapable of changing my expectations for myself. I frustrate myself instead.

I yank the cord and it unplugs itself again, this time launching itself in a high arc over the ever-patient door lying on the gurney saw horses, to land on the top of my bare head with a resounding pop. I drop my tools and quickly choose to take a small break in the shade, stumbling into the side yard where my grand nephew proclaims, "You're bleeding, man!" I look down at my gloved hand to see red smearing across the palm. "It's running down your face!" I sit on a shady step, slipping off my now bloody gloves and call for a rag or something. The nephew sprints inside, returning with a bag of painter's rags. I sit there sopping scalp blood until my panic subsides. I stumble around to the faucet and wash my face, running cold water over my head and replacing the bloody rag with a fresh paint-smeared one, as yet unbloodied. I sit in the shade shaking my sorry head.

I'm back to my Paint Shop a few minutes later, slipping my ridiculous havelock over my freshly conked scalp. Stories of Zen students invariably include a chapter where the novice receives a surprise conking from their master in demonstration of sudden awareness. I can speak from fresh experience to report that sudden awareness ain't all those stories crack it up to be. My grudge, fueled by my own expectations and shortcomings, seemed unaffected by my surprise enlightenment. I've been considering just what happened since it happened. I recognize that however imperative I might insist that my work has become, I might be better served by imagining it considerably less important than it might well be. Imperative-motivated hearts tend toward heaviness, while great results almost certainly demand lighter hearts. Nobody ever feels grudgy except when pursuing someone else's goals, even when that someone else turns out to be me in deep disguise. Will alone won't transform me into the skilled craftsman I might feel I need to be to satisfy my suddenly scrupulous scrutiny. I judge my contributions too harshly and I know it. The conk caught me engaging in the sin of self-importance, needier than my project, failing to produce the positive self-regard my contribution was never prepared to provide me.

I'm weary, knackered from long days engaging in hard physical labor. The exercise has doubtless been good for me, though hard work brings the even harder responsibility to refuse to take the extreme effort too awfully seriously, lest grudges grow to utterly undermine the otherwise good effort. Of course I've been exploiting my good nature, too readily agreeing to deliver way too much. So what? What does any of it matter if it yields a heavier heart? I experience, it seems, the same things over and over or one damned thing after another. I get to choose which of these alternatives I focus upon and also how I respond to their presence. I could easily cultivate a fine garden of grudges nurtured by the fundamental unfairness of the universe or, perhaps, accept the shortcomings, my own shortcomings, as some strange gift produced expressly for me, for my enlightenment.

Enlightenment ain't all it's cracked up to be. It seems about ninety percent acceptance of the way things are. Immersed in a frenzy of changing the way things have always been throughout the duration of our stewardship here, accepting the way (some) things are seems particularly challenging. I wonder like the novice before the master that I most certainly am, whether this or some future more shocking conking might finally awaken me from this trance.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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