Dearest Sugar Shells,
I'm back from Portugal and ready to rock and roll! I hope every single one of you is feeling truly well, whether you're at home or traveling, whether you're navigating summer heat or chilly rainy days, whether you're working hard or taking a vacation.
In the town of Porto, in northern Portugal, I had a brief conversation with a lovely human being. We sat together on white stone steps in front of a tourist-trap kind of restaurant on the blue Douro River. Generously, he suggested that I was a carefree person, and he seemed a little sad as he identified himself as someone who was not carefree.
I accepted the compliment in that moment, but since then, I've been thinking a lot about it, and now I disagree.
Carefree. Care-free. Free of (or from?) care.
In truth, I am emphatically not a carefree person. I never have been, actually. I care - a LOT - about so many many things! I care about colony collapse in honey bees, Arctic drilling, the health of our rainforests and oceans, Cecil the lion. I care about my mom's retirement account and my niece's self-image. I care about vain things like the appearance of my fingernails as well as essential things like my intake of organic fruits and vegetables, living in service to others, and love. I care about you! I care about world peace, racial equality, money, and freedom for all beings; the lives of my friends; chocolate and other treats (see this week's Fun Family Photo); education, access to clean water, women's rights, etc., etc., etc..
But here's the thing.
I don't WORRY anymore. (You know, for the most part.)
I refuse to obsess. I no longer do what I call "looping" in my mind: thinking the same line of thoughts on repeat, circling endlessly.
And here's why - and, incidentally, how:
I practice the multi-faceted skill of looking at my own mind. When I catch a thought that causes me to suffer, I hold it in my hands gently like a tiny songbird, examining it carefully and inspecting it for truth.
The thoughts that seem burdensome, full of worry and care and heaviness, generally are not true. They are traps that make me unavailable to the present moment.
So it's not that I don't care, or that I don't think, or that I don't pay attention because denial rules. As the wise Pema Chödrön writes in When Things Fall Apart:
"It's not that we pat ourselves on the back and say, 'You're the greatest,' or 'Don't worry, sweetheart, everything is going to be fine.' Rather it's a process by which self-deception becomes so skillfully and compassionately exposed that there's no mask that can hide us anymore."
YES. A willingness to remove the mask and stare calmly into the face of whatever is there.
Yes. So, in other words, I am full of care. All the care pulls me toward doing the invisible work, every day, that evidently makes me look carefree.
Ha! What a strange trip this is.