Last night, my husband and I went to see Bon Iver at our local still newish outdoor amphitheater, located just outside of town in Bonner, Montana. It rained the whole…entire…time. Did I mention it was at an outdoor amphitheater? The last time I was that wet with my clothes on, I had volunteered at a mud run event and then chose to walk the course when my shift was over. I’d gotten moderately muddied up while traversing the course but my grand finale soaking-through came when swimming across a relatively deep muddy water pit at the end.
In comparing these two soaking-wet-with-clothes-on experiences, a notable distinction is that for one of them it was my choice and for the other it totally wasn’t. One was outside of my control. And that makes a HUGE difference, by the way. In terms of how we approach and energetically receive an experience, control has everything to do with it.
We arrived to the venue early. With grass seats and never having been to the amphitheater before, we wanted to stake out a good spot and do our best to ensure prime viewing. This meant, however, that we were soaked through well-before the concert was even set to start. In this semi-arid part of the country, it’s not often that we get a rain that lasts for hours on end without pause. But that’s sure what happened last night! The rain increased and decreased in heftiness and vigor, but it rained truly the whole time we were there. For three hours, we sat holed up in our Crazy Creek chairs atop small mats, raincoats, and blue tarp, slowly becoming more saturated as time went on. I read it was a sold out show. And with a capacity of 4,000, it meant we were in good company.
Since umbrellas weren’t allowed (as they would obstruct the view of those behind you), I enjoyed seeing what creative solutions people came up with to shield themselves from the wet weather. We were like a sea of huddled masses, ghosts, lagoon creatures, and woodland survivalists in our assortment of blankets, ponchos, rain gear, plastic sheeting, and cloaks. It was comforting, and somehow made the experience more tolerable, to feel the friendly camaraderie of being in it together, wrapped up in rain-shielding materials.
Given that we were all adorned in a variety of plastic wear, faces concealed by head coverings, we managed not to see any of the 9 friends we knew had tickets to the show. Not to our direct knowledge, anyway. Turns out, we all look the same when shrouded in rain gear. And given that hats and hoods limit one’s peripheral vision, they could’ve been sitting right next to us and we never would’ve known.
For those of us who actively engage ourselves with Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village mindfulness tradition, regarding it as our spiritual home, there are a few different usages for the word “practice.” We refer to the tradition itself as: the practice. We refer to our personal workings within it as: my practice. And we refer to a particular difficulty we’re working on within the context of the tradition as: practicing. So, if one were not concerned with over-using the same word in a sentence – or profoundly confusing whoever was listening – you could say: The practice has helped me to infuse my practice with a better awareness and understanding of myself because right now I’m really practicing to befriend the parts of myself that I’m not a big fan of. (Side note: Please know that while I say this in jest, I don’t at all say it in mockery.) We also refer to the people within our tradition as practitioners. So if you’re new to “the practice” it can be a little perplexing to get all the usages sorted out.
Last night, after about 30-minutes of settling into the reality of staying situated in a steady dosing of rain for the whole of our show-watching experience, I turned to Mike and said: Whelp, this is a moment to practice! By which I meant: I’m uncomfortable, I really wish it weren’t raining, I’m getting cold, this is unpleasant, I really wish it weren’t raining, and I REALLY wish it weren’t raining. I knew I had a choice. I could either gripe and moan and allow my inner landscape to become as soggy as my long hair OR I could switch into practice-gear and actively DO something about changing my attitude. As a seasoned practitioner, I’ve learned that any time I am feeling dis-ease, dis-comfort, impatience, angst, or any flavor of grumbly, is a time to practice.
For me, this scenario of sitting in the rain and practicing equated to: not voicing aloud all of my feelings of discomfort, smiling even when I didn’t super feel like it, looking around and energetically connecting with the people around me, staying grounded in the reality that my feelings of discomfort were extremely minor and a matter of great privilege, and putting extra focus on the band’s performance as a way to concentrate my attention on the music, verses the inclement weather and my sodden self. I also practiced by sitting stiller than usual, as it was easier not to think about how wet my pants were if I didn’t move too much.
In rare and overly wonderful accord, Bon Iver didn’t have an opener last night. So when the show started right on time at 8:00pm, revealing that the band we came to see was the band entering on stage, I was filled with a swell of relief. In the interest of a growingly soggy audience, they also made the call not to take their intended intermission and just keep on playing through, elevating my opinion of the head guy, which had been deflated when he made a glorifying remark about drug usage earlier in the show.
We got home around 10:00pm. I can’t recall the last time I felt so genuinely elated to take off my pants and plug in the space heater we thought we retired for the season. Not only were we wet but it was cold, too! Earlier in the day, while I was at work, it hailed pencil-eraser-sized balls of ice, sheeting the ground and pinging off the windows like pellets.
We all need to get outside of our comfort zone from time to time. We need to get our feathers ruffled up and, as I heard Brother Phap Dung say in a talk recently: get our buttons pushed. If we don’t, we’re liable to become so insulated in our own finely-crafted bubble that we’re unable to weather even the smallest amounts of discomfort.
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but life is uncomfortable on a really steady and ongoing basis. So it behooves us to come up with a way to practice in the midst of its happening. Otherwise, it’s gonna be a really rough ride.