Sunday, Sepang, Sardines
Finding sangha where we can, in these days of physical distancing
I missed an issue because the repetitive stress in my wrists flared up so bad I couldn’t make any non-essential keystrokes — the flare was the result of a perfect storm on my end of delays in getting started on new arthritis meds during a global pandemic, and our sudden hiatus from the activity that keeps me healthier from noggin to toes under normal circumstances: climbing. But after working on my desk ergos and starting my new meds and getting some rest
and putting the fucking phone down
the pain in my wrists is easing so while the mouse is still my enemy so I won’t be sharing links this week, at least I can type.
I’m writing this on Sunday morning, after reading half of the Sunday New York Times which a carrier dropped in our driveway this morning, and setting the crossword puzzle on Chris’s side of the sofa since he’s taken to doing a few a day via the NY Times app. While I read the paper, he put on a RedBull movie.
An aside: I’m grateful I’ve spent almost no time watching TV or movies the last 14 years or so since there’s so much to watch now when we welcome the distraction.
The film Chris put on this morning was about Porsche teams racing the LeMans and the Nürburgring five days apart and I kept one eye on the paper and one eye on the movie.
I kept getting distracted by the crowds spilling in and out of gates like water running over banks; and packing daytime stands with every seat full.
I don’t usually pay attention to the stands when we watch racing, unless whatever we’re watching is at Sepang in Malaysia. I always pay attention to the stands, when the race is in Malaysia. I can’t help it.
The experience of spectating there is etched in my senses so strongly that whenever there’s a flash on screen of the distinctive roofs over parts of the SIC stands I’m transported back to 2016 when I impulsively planned a solo trip to Malaysia
(hoping to see Dani Pedrosa ride (and win) at Sepang)
(he didn’t — he was out with injuries after an awful crash at Motegi)
and Vietnam (to eat and sightsee) with a stack of frequent flier miles I’d accumulated spending most of that year on the road for work.
For Sepang, I’d bought tickets to the race: but on arrival, I vaguely wondered if that was necessary. There was a gate, but no real crowd control. With the weather basically monsooning, people were packed into the covered stands like actual sardines: wet from rain, spilling into their neighbors’ seat, and with the stairways through the stands treated as seating, with people squeezed in four or five across.
I’d arrive early each day to get a good seat, then befriend my neighbors, sometimes without a language in common, so that we could keep each others’ seats during snack runs and bio breaks.
As a westerner, the crowdedness wasn’t comfortable for me. I felt claustrophobic, and unsafe: like — if shit went down, there’d be no way out. I was distracted by the stairways being full of people.
But in retrospect, today what I remember most is the way the crowd worked like an organism: seatmates I’d never seen before and would never see again sharing snacks from packages none of us could read, and high-fiving each other or cracking jokes about the weather. People parting and offering hands to help folks get up and down the crowded stairways.
At one point, ironically, right after a coworker at home had urged me to turn my phone off, put it away, and unplug for a bit
and, while I stood up slightly to take a picture with my 35mm film camera — forgetting that I’d left my phone in my lap
I dropped my phone from my second level front row seat onto the first level concrete floor (thankfully not hitting anyone, in the process) and when I got down to the first level, the organism of the crowd had passed my phone back to the back row, where wordlessly I was intercepted by a man handing me my shattered phone.
The picture I took with my 35mm right AFTER I dropped my phone to the stands below … I figured: I’d sacrificed my cell phone for this, I might as well fire off a shot.
Right now, watching past motorsports events with the stands packed full of people, crowding together during the day; then emptying to sparse during the overnight and wee hours of the morning… the overnight shots of mostly empty stands feel more normal right now.
So strange how quickly our survival mechanisms and emotional reactions adapt to new information, threats, uncertainty.
A couple years ago I found myself experiencing a phase of the sads that was unlike anything I’d experienced before, and seeing a counselor to work on a care plan. I’d started working from home full time — again — and was finding myself spiraling — again — downward like I had during previous stints of working full time from home. It didn’t make any sense: I’m an introvert, I love being alone, I actually don’t get lonely. I was born for this. I love being at home. So why would being at home be so hard on my system?
My therapist recommended that I make time each week to get out of the house and spend time around other people, even if it’s just sitting in a coffee shop to work, or taking a break to eat lunch out at a bar, away from my home. There’s something about the energy of being around other people, she said. When we don’t have that, we’re more at risk of failing to thrive.
As she was talking my thoughts drifted to the word “sangha,” and to time spent in various Buddhist and meditation settings with others. Meditating alone together in a community has a different energy than meditating alone.
And that’s the energy I miss when I spend too much time alone. The rational part of me doesn’t get lonely, but the part of me that’s energy does.
I’ve had an amazing few years since 2016, with so many wonderful changes and choices and opportunities and so much goodness in my life. And I still wrestle with failing to thrive, in that energetic sense, and this time at home is definitely affecting me.
It’s a hard dynamic to turn around: more rest, less stress, more presence, more gratitude, more joy
and right now I’m definitely getting more rest, working on the less stress, need to spend more time on presence, and am exercising my gratitude muscles all day every day. And I do miss the energy of being surrounded by other living things. I am grateful to be here with Chris and Gibson and tray after tray of seedlings and am so grateful for our backyard full of life and our front yard which has attracted a steady stream of new birds we haven’t seen before
and I do look forward to someday riding a packed city bus to the station to get on a packed trolly car up to the summit of Snaefell where we’ll walk in a crowd to a sheep field before we get to lay out our picnic blanket and have a little distance from the other spectators out to watch the TT races on the Isle of Man (where we planned to be in a few months, retracing some of the steps of our honeymoon)
and to someday taking Chris to Sepang, since when I did that trip he and I were brand new together, and I was so thrilled to take the trip by myself and also can’t wait to retrace those steps with him. Packed in like sardines to the stands at SIC under those distinctive roofs, nestled together with other racing fans as far as the eye can see.
Stay home. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face.
Put down the fucking phone. Spend a few minutes enjoying the energy of whatever’s around you: people, pets, plants — whatever’s outside of you, for just a few minutes.
I’m going to try to spend more time taking that to heart this week, myself.
And please, be well.
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