Monday, August 23, 2010

Peak Experiences and So On

Thank you very much for your input/encouragement about the website -- your comments made it better and are very appreciated :) I have to run it by the University attorney and then work on a press release -- I hope it is ready to launch next week!

VST -- Asia is looking for a new handler as hers is a slow learner. Here is the bottom line -- the dog was AWESOME and the handler was...well, human... As I said, it is a learning process and I am learning so it was very successful. And I LOVE that Asia -- what an amazingly great dog she is :)

As I drove home (nine hours) I was listening to a show on NPR where they interviewed people at a New York rest stop -- it was hilarious and the perfect thing for me to listen to as I drove. One person from West Virginia talked about how that rest stop in New York was the farthest she had ever been in her life!!!

That got me thinking about how what I do with all my various travels probably seems really odd to people. There I was zipping through Washington and Idaho -- 18 hours in the car to run a track with a dog. Some people plan vacations to Seattle -- I just drove over for the night.

I am not sure why I find it so easy and normal to jump in the car and drive -- by myself, no less -- but I do. I enjoy seeing new places, meeting new people, and having new adventures. And then I had an insight...

A new song came on -- "If I Die Young" -- and suddenly a slide show was playing in my head. There was the mom with her haunted eyes -- her baby had died and she asking me what to do about her breasts that were still making milk, and then I was catching the mom who was falling to the floor because the doctor had just told her that her son did not make it and it went on and on and on, and I was crying as I drove as I relived all those deaths and all that grief and all those shattered lives.

And I decided that yes, I am rather strange -- not special, just strange. And that the ability to stay present as a parent's soul shatters and the ability to drive to Seattle for the night just to run a track that one will "flunk" are, in fact, related in more than one way.

For over five years I worked directly with bereaved parents and dying/sick children. People always asked me how I could do it and I do not have a good answer, but I can tell you WHY I did/do it: because I appreciate "real".

Death and dying strips away everything pretend, everything extra -- and people are real. It is like you get to exist with them in a sacred, private space and I have never lost that feeling of honor and privilege when I am allowed there with a person. Yes, it is hard to stand so close to a fire and yes, it hurts -- but it is real, and I do it because for whatever reason, I can and it seems to help.

I am reminded of something I read a long time ago and have never forgotten -- it is from the Velveteen Rabbit:

""What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.""

When it is just me and the dog and a track -- it is real. The world fades back and I do not even notice the people or the place -- it is peak experience, no matter the outcome.

Peak experiences are hard in so many ways -- I understand why people avoid them. Peak experiences come flooding back at you when a song plays and suddenly you are trying to drive through tears. Peak experiences open you up to feelings of disappointment and failure, if you let them. But peak experiences let you feel Real -- and I am hooked, and that is why I spent 18+ total hours in a car to run a one hour track with a dog...

Strange, but real -- and I am glad we all get to decide for ourselves what we seek after. A timid life has never interested me, and after working so closely with death and sorrow -- well, it seems to me that if I failed to learn about the need to live fully and without regrets then I have missed the opportunity to give some meaning to all that meaningless sorrow and loss.

So go boldly in to your life, seeking after whatever makes you real -- but don't forget to stop and smell the flowers -- or rather, to take their pictures. Western Washington University is a lovely campus and had a rose garden -- I love roses, maybe because they make me think of my mom...

Wildflowers are more like me -- kind of an interesting chaotic but colorful mess.

And coming home I took this from the car -- it is the Columbia River. I do not want to live a timid life but I also would not enjoy being on this river -- it is HUGE. I think my inner tube and I will stick to the Bitterroot...

This was in Montana -- I love Montana :)

And this is from the other day -- Chippy hoping to have a peak experience of his own involving peanuts :)

Have a wonderful, real week -- and thanks again for the excellent website comments!


  1. And if I may, I think it explains part of the attraction to dogs and animals, for they always live in the present and real world they inhabit.

  2. Excellent point!!!!!! Dogs are always real -- and invite the same from us... Thanks for sharing that.