No Exit

I remember a play from my college theatre days – “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre in which three characters, after dying, are brought to a clean and comfortable room for eternity rather than go to the tortures of hell as they expected. They have, instead, been placed together in this room, one character says, to make each other miserable. And proceed to do so.

I am in a clean, comfortable room. At least moderately so. The heat wave continues unabated and our air conditioner, which hasn’t received the attention it deserves in this never-ending heat, is not keeping up. We are living with fans and the house temperature is in the mid-80s. I got up early and began calling heating-cooling repairmen. One promises to come by late morning.

In the meantime, I’m pondering escape.

It’s too early for a movie and going to a mall at eight o’clock in the morning hardly sounds fun. What’s to do when there’s no escape? The only cool places are on the West coast and they are so unusually cool this summer, they’re uncomfortable too. Shots from West Coast ballgames show people in coats and hoods. I don’t want to be in a coat and hood.

Most of you reading this are also having your summer of never-ending heat. With or without air conditioning. And we’re all getting a little testy. And when we allow our testy-ness to come out on other people, we make each other miserable. And testy in turn.

So for words of wisdom this morning, for both of us, I picked up my much-used copy of an old friend’s book. I first met Monique Pasternak in Hawaii when I lived at the retreat center. She’s a poet and a mystic, and her book “The New Siddur For Creators.”

“The soul is like a lake: The less storms agitate its surface, the more it can absorb the rays of the sun. As the being learns to rest inside the body, letting go of unnecessary winds and thunders, the soul begins to operate at its full potential. As we empty ourselves, more of God can enter.”

So if you’re trapped in a one-way-no-exit moment…Stop. Go get a bag of ice and put it on the top of your head (it worked for me)! Bring yourself back to emotional balance, and if you don’t want to be a lake absorbing sun, be a lake in a mountain meadow. Allow yourself to enter into a place of calm.

It’s always there, regardless of the circumstances, if we make that choice. And pretty much, we’re all in this summer thing together. Allow the holy presence to soothe your way today, and in that soothing, be the holy presence for others, (and especially for air-conditioning repairmen)!

Heat

Unrelenting. The heat that is. All across the country, heat pushes patience and goodwill to the edge of consciousness and pulls impatience and irritation to the front; the lazy, crazy days of summer are, simply put, crazed.

It’s not that it’s all that much hotter than usual, four or five degrees, six. The problem lies in the unrelenting and matches the winter when we had unrelenting snow and cold.

The definition of heat from the American Heritage Dictionary reads, “A form of energy associated with the motion of atoms or molecules in solids and capable of being transmitted through solid and fluid media by conduction, through fluid media by conversion, and through empty space by radiation.” In other words, there’s no getting away from it. What’s also interesting about the word is that it only has one root and one definition in ancient Indo-European: kai – heat. That’s it. No other words have grown from it. There’s an extended form, kaid, which, to my way of thinking, means heat unrelenting. And there we are. Not even an extension to muse and rethink into some escape.

There’s a story in last Sunday’s NY Times about a couple in Salina, Kansas, who have given up air-conditioning and live with ceiling fans, window fans, and shade. It’s a romantic Kansas view – cotton curtains blowing in the breeze, birds sitting on the window sills. “A favorite escape is the cool of the basement, or chairs under their mulberry and peach trees.” There’s no mention of work or doing. So okay. If reading all day or lounging under a mulberry tree is the only task, that sounds doable I guess.

And it’s possible for me to do that at the moment – I’m on break between semesters. I don’t have to go outside. But I do. Most mornings I go for an early walk; yesterday, I pulled weeds threatening to turn a new a new flower bed into overgrown chaos. But being outside isn’t my job. I think about those people whose job is to work outside all day – stressed, angry, frustrated by the constant depleting season. Remembering heart-generous actions once in their cars each night is a stretch. Or at least it sounds that way from the sirens I hear wafting across the heat-stifled afternoon air.

We can all be destructive when we are under pressure. And pressure is what this time offers.

How can we keep our sense of humor and a sense of sanity under pressure that’s unrelenting?

The task, of course, is to maintain awareness. The second task is to realize that everyone is feeling the stress of these days and to remain compassionate. That’s probably the most difficult task of all: to drop our judgment of others’ actions and remain compassionate; to walk, as it were, in another’s shoes and to practice understanding.

Easier to judge the couple in Salina: “Wish I could just sit and read all day… they must have a gardener if that’s all they do…who mows their lawn…who picks the peaches from the peach tree…” Easier to belittle than be peaceful.

“It’s all about your state of mind and expectations. Ours are relaxed,” the man in Salina adds. Ah.

We all need practice these days in monitoring our states of minds. How often do we fall into a state of grump rather than climb into a state of peace? How often do we give up compassion for confrontation? And, more importantly, which would we really rather be? Grumpy or peaceful?

If you want to be peaceful, be the peace. No one is escaping this summer of stress, so if you want kindness, be kind. You are familiar with the saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Try using the kitchen as a metaphor for the moods you feel. If you can’t distance yourself physically, try distancing yourself mentally and spiritually from the heat of a situation. Breathe. I know I say that often, but breathe. Relax your forehead. Drop your shoulder’s. Focus on your body and breathe and your mind will return to a state of peacefulness.  

And it’s all relative, isn’t it? Think about it: in five months, we’ll be complaining about the cold, and we’ll still be needing to choose peace.