Monkey-Fractal Labyrinth

Life is a Monkey-Fractal Labyrinth. Let me deconstruct that for you.

The monkey-mind is a Zen allegory. And it is easy to imagine for me (easy for me to understand), since my mind already seems like a primate house with my id, ego, and super ego shouting at each other; with the demands of work and family vying for attention; with my mind, body, and soul trying to coalesce into a singularity; with my hunger for dark chocolate and red wine a bottomless pit. I have a legion of monkeys on my back, shrieking and howling.

The Zen ideal is to have a mind like a clear sky. Thoughts, like clouds, will arrive in your mind, but they transform, shift, and drift away. You can choose to let them remain or let them go, blown by the wind. You can recognize them as dragons or birds. The trick is to understand that your thoughts are clouds, and you are the sky.

The fractal part is a personal insight from my math background. Fractals are geometric patterns that repeat at smaller and bigger scales. Snowflakes are natural fractals, laid out on a basic hexagonal pattern because of the molecular structure of water. And they are individualized by the nano-climate they formed in.

When I look at my life as a fractal, I see a hierarchy of repeating patterns. At the beginning is my birth and at the end is my death. Every week holds a Monday (the beginning) and a Sunday (my Protestant Sabbath, and the end of the weekend). And every day I begin by waking up and end with falling into sleep. And going even to smaller increments, the hours… my workout begins with a warm up and ends with a cool down. There are meals to prepare, eat, and clean up. And there are moments of intense work and concentration followed by periods of reflection and planning.

The labyrinth is harder, deeper. The labyrinth is a sacred journey to the center, a meeting with the eternal and divine and then a unification with the profane as you return to your quotidian life.

I see the labyrinth in every trip I take away from home: vacations, my commute, my workouts. And then the fractal labyrinth (the breaking down into smaller parts) is when I am on vacation or on the road for work, and I have a room that I am living in, operating from. The day-to-day journeys become their own labyrinths. A workout in the morning, breakfast and second breakfast, lunch, a snack, a drink, dinner, and dessert. Throughout the day I’ll see some sights and do some things. And at the end, there is sleep. Then repeat until you die.

There is a Rush song that touches on these ideas.
How many times
Do we chaff against the repetition
Straining against a fate
Measured out in coffee breaks? We Hold On by Rush

That last line is an allusion to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot (http://www.bartleby.com/198/1.html), which contains the line “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” And you should read the poem, it gives some depth and beauty to what I am trying to say here.

In the Rush song, Anything Can Happen the lyric “The point of departure is not to return…” begs the question of what the point of departure is. I say the point of departure is to escape the ordinary, everyday, quotidian routines and perspective. The point of going somewhere is to experience something new, determine what is really important, center yourself, anchor yourself. Then, upon returning home, going back to the ordinary, you bring that new experience and perspective to the everyday; so that you can…
see the native flora as something other than highway-weeds;
enjoy the every-day sunrise in all of its splendor;
appreciate what you have and what you lack;
and inspire others to go on a journey of their own.

As I prepared to go to Yosemite, as I entered the labyrinth, I began believing that I could be a better dad, but not knowing what I wanted to change.

I’ve learned a trick for making a clean get-away for a run when I’m on vacation with my family, when we are all packed into a single room, and when disturbing them means that I will have grumpy companions for the rest of the day. When I wake up, I put on my headlamp, and I use it to give me just enough light, exactly where I need it. This makes me feel like a thief. And I realized what I am stealing is time. I am stealing time to be by myself. And I am pushing my mood into the caution zone, into yellow, into caustic, at least until I am well-recovered, after second breakfast.

When I wake, as I leave, I must be careful not to disturb the occupants. If I wake them, I have robbed them of their sleep and damaged their good-humor as well. Mine is already shaky enough.

What I learned in Yosemite was I was the slowest one in the morning. After my run, if I just concentrated on getting myself out of the room and onto the road, then I managed to tie with B, my oldest son, he’s the second slowest. My wife and younger son always beat me, and they can be found reading or on youtube as I frantically get my own stuff ready. Granted, I eat about 3 more meals than anyone else; still, my wife fixes snacks for everyone except me. So she doesn’t have it so easy herself.

In the department of getting ready, I am slow. Previously, I would get all worked up, and grouch at everyone to hurry up and get ready; when, really, it was me that needed the prodding. By simply shutting up and getting myself ready as fast as I could, everyone was happier, including me.

I entered the Labyrinth of vacation, believing myself to be a mystic, “a person who attains insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge. These insights come from direct communication with the divine or immediate intuition in a state of spiritual ecstasy,” according to dictionary.reference.com. I say these insights come during the course of a run as you lose track of everything except the present moment. I say a running ritual can help you find these thin places between the ordinary and the transcendent.

I have adopted these words as mine: “I wish I was a nomad, an Indian, or saint. Give me walking (running) shoes, feathered arms, and a key to heaven’s gate,” from World Falls by Indigo Girls. But I realized I am no nomad; I am a tourist, a voyeur. I carry too many things with me. And I am no Native American; I am a denizen of the city, the fabricated, protected habitat of people. I could never make it on my own. I am “out of touch / With the weather and the wind direction / With the sunrise / And the phases of the moon” from Secret Touch by Rush. And I am no saint; I am a holier-than-thou hypocrite. Still, in my dreams, I aspire to a higher plane.

I keep on running, hoping to become a mystic, a nomad, a native; and I run because I need a run in the morning. And (even better) in strange locations, away from my usual routine, I can get lost in my thoughts, absorbed in the scenery, and not worry too much about my pace. Sometimes I see things in a brand-new light.

On a quick morning run, just outside of Yosemite, I ran past a sequoia that had sprouted at a prime vantage point. I ran past it and thought, “What a great view! It would be even better if this tree wasn’t here!” Then I realized, the tree wasn’t blocking my view; it was just growing where it was planted.

It reminded me of a tree at Tunnel View that was “blocking” my view of Half Dome, and I thought these trees have perfect spots. They have grown here because they can catch the first rays of the sun as it comes over the ridge. Their right to be here is more important than my desire for an unobstructed view. And then I realized what a foreigner I was. This was not my native land. I had flown half-way across the continent and driven another four-hours (wasting irreplaceable fossil-fuel) so that I could visit, barge in, invade. These creatures were born here. They would die here. This was their home.

I thought, when we take core samples from trees, we are barbarians asking them about the past. Forgive us for the pain we cause; we have no other way to pose the questions: Where did you come from? What have you seen? How long have you been here?

I realized that even leaving my footprints (along with the footprints of millions of other visitors) was suffocating these giants by pressing down the earth on their roots. I needed to walk so lightly that I would not leave footprints. I needed to be a whisper here. The evidence of my presence would be best forgotten, wiped away. I needed to walk humbly in the presence of these ancients.

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