July 19, 2022

I’m ready, let’s go!


The function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.  I shall use my time.

-Jack London’s Credo, published at the time of his death at the age of 40.


Waldo is having a hard time of it today; I can tell he’s a little uncomfortable.  The temperature when we started out this morning was at its lowest for the day, in the high-sixties, but it quickly rose to something in the mid-seventies — high enough that it’s hard for Waldo to keep cool.  He’s walking from shady patch to shady patch and then lying down.  His tongue is fully extended and flattened out and he doesn’t hold sticks for long so he can pant more effectively.  Waldo and I have been together long enough that I can sense when he’s uncomfortable and I usually can intuitively guess why.

I think life is lived mostly by making intuitive guesses.  I know that’s the way I do it.  I go from moment to moment, making decisions and taking courses of action and I don’t really know why.  Oh, I have ideas and theories, but at best, they’re just guesses based on past experience and intuition.  That can’t be helped because, even for the smartest of us, we just can’t know enough, if such knowledge is even possible, to live life rationally.  Everything is an educated guess.  But most of us do a pretty good job of it, just the same.  We make mistakes often, but we’re able to keep the ship upright, keep the wind in the sails and make some sort of progress in life.  And we learn from our mistakes.  There’s something to this subliminal ability to make good guesses.  Something that, whereas maybe not infallible, does serve at least as a good place to start.

When I first started flying an airplane, it was very much an intellectual activity.  I paid attention to how much aileron I was using, how hard I was pulling on the stick and pushing on the rudders.   I paid close attention to what the instrument dials were saying and adjusted what I was doing to the numbers I saw.  This kind of flying does not allow you to get ahead of the plane – that is, know what the plane is going to do before it does it.  You’re always behind, playing catch-up, trying to counteract what just happened instead of directing what’s about to happen.  The plane is doing the flying and you’re just going along for the ride.  But over time, and a lot of hours of practice, you get a “feel” for the plane and the plane eventually becomes an extension of your body.  There’s a rewiring of your brain that happens that allows you to fly instinctively.

At first, I would think, I want the plane to turn and go over there, so I’ll move the stick so much to make that happen.  Later on, I would think, I want the plane to do this and it would automatically just do it.  I wouldn’t have to think about it any more than I have to think about the mechanics of moving my arms and legs.  I want to walk down the rail-trail and all I do is set the intention, the rest just happens.  I want a plane to fly in a loop, and voila, I’m upside down.  I’m flying without cognitive awareness of the process.  I’m the one flying, the plane is just a suit of clothes that I put on before I left the ground.  That’s a very good thing because there is a lot that has to happen while flying that does require rational thinking and you need to put your attention there.  But there is much also that does not.  And that is where the wonder, the magic, the glory of flying is.

Just so, living life intuitively is the art of just letting it happen.  Living in the moment and enjoying the wonder of it all.  That doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t think about what it is you should do.  Intuition is something that grows and improves over time, just like the ability to fly a plane, and it doesn’t always lead to making the right decision.  Even high-time pilots can screw up and unintentionally make an airplane crash.  But the real act of living is in the living, not thinking about living and thinking should be subordinate to living.  Think about what you’re doing, sure, but then do it, fully, completely and fully engaged.  Pay attention to what’s happening in the moment, because that is your life.  All that other stuff is just you thinking about your life.

Waldo is on his feet again and ready to go on down the trail.  I may be projecting myself onto him by saying this, but I don’t think I’m far off the mark when I say that he’s pushing himself to get to the car and then home to chill in the AC.  He’s not done walking, by any means.  But he could use a little break.

I know I can.


Gimme just a minute…

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