Very Zen

In the months I have shared my car through Lyft (I’ve given 1,005 rides as of this posting) I’ve rediscovered my love of driving. I lost that enthusiasm during fifteen years of commuting 25 miles across Los Angeles and back, anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours each way depending on day of the week, time of day, Dodger game, Laker game, traffic accident, or natural disasters.

Natural disasters would certainly include the windstorm a few years ago that blew down thousands of trees across the county, literally on every block in some neighborhoods. However, a single tree across a canyon road forces the miles long caterpillar of cars to reverse back downhill to join the already numerous hordes on alternative routes.

Sadly, yes, this is from personal experience crawling halfway up to Mulholland Drive only to U-turn and start over.

When I commuted not only did I drive, I also fretted about non-driving stuff: getting to work on time; tasks for current projects; follow ups for completed projects; presentations; planning sessions; emails; phone calls; interviews; meetings; canceling meetings; shopping lists; household repairs and chores; and various other concerns ad nauseam.

Now while getting Lyft riders to their jobs or flights or events or friends I of course still deal with traffic, but I don’t pile my psychological stuff on top. I navigate, drive, and enhance the riders’ experience by being friendly, chatting, keeping quiet, or playing music depending on the rider’s needs.

With my rediscovered Zen mindset in the background, I reread a favorite novel of mine with my book club. (In this particular club we recommend a book only if we have read it in its entirety. We all read each month’s selection and discuss.)

The Cold Dish by Wyoming resident Craig Johnson introduces protagonist Sheriff Walt Longmire. I enjoy the camaraderie of Mr. Johnson’s sparkling characters, seeing in my mind’s eye the New West and the old (and young) Cheyenne. I read the first six of the Walt Longmire Mystery series and now need to catch up on the latest books.

I also enjoy the TV series, currently on streaming Netflix. The creators/producers have changed a lot for the medium of episodic television, of course, but have translated the characters and ambiance very well.

After I reread The Cold Dish for pleasure, I inspected certain parts analytically. At first I thought Walt (as protagonist and first person narrator) states the theme in the Epilogue in his thoughts about revenge, and I took issue with that character’s conclusions. Then I found the real theme at the end of the Epilogue and realized that Lonnie Little Bird repeats the theme throughout the book.

Lonnie emphasizes his statements with a follow up sentence: “Um-hmm, yes it is so.” As I read for pleasure I saw this as an idiosyncratic and humorous speech pattern marking Lonnie’s character. During analysis I recognized this as another version of an oft-heard Japanese phrase.

Shikata ga nai is usually translated in English as “It can’t be helped.” It is invoked to express resigned acceptance of a sad situation. In mundane matters its equivalent is “No use crying over spilt milk.” In serious matters, like death in the family, its equivalent is “They’ve gone to a better place.” My parents’ generation reiterated this stoic phrase as they faced their World War II internment in desolate mountain and desert camps from Wyoming to Arizona to Arkansas.

Shikata ga nai is proactive, not passive. Accept the situation and deal with it. Say it with the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Lonnie says, “Um-hmm, yes it is so.” Our current zeitgeist version: “It is what it is.”

Some folks recoil upon hearing “It is what it is.” They feel it says nothing, adds nothing to a discussion.

I like this phrase. It is an acceptance of what exists, an acknowledgement of the real, the here and now. It is a concise rephrasing of the Buddhist adage “The meaning of life is in its meaninglessness.”

Life happens. Often we cannot reason logic in an event, but we can make sense of it, literal sense of the experience. It just is, like a fumbled punt. Like desert sand blowing through shrinking boards in a camp wall. Like an accident, or a crime, or a war.

Like the extra Canadian goose on one side of the flying V. Or the speed of traffic on an L.A. freeway.


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