By reading, I gradually figured out that meditation was a way of thinking (or of NOT thinking) about the actual process of thinking, itself, which some very smart people in other parts of the world had been thinking about for ages before I was born. And that meditation was somehow very important.
I also figured out that my grandfather, for all his calmness and mild manners, was a really serious thinker. When he would come across a problem of any kind, working in the yard or the tool shed or the chicken houses, you could almost hear the wheels in his head turning until he figured it out.
If he fixed a thing right the first time, he'd grin and say something like "Well, even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes." If the first solution failed, he'd often grimace and say, "Well, I think I just outsmarted my own self."
By being around Granddaddy and reading a little philosophy on the side, I found that outsmarting one's own self is a big part of the human condition. Sort of like a quote by a writer who said about an over-eager character, "He flung himself on his horse and rode off in all directions at once."
The best way to get stuff done, it turns out, is a technique called "living in the moment," which seems simple outwardly but is way easier said than done.
If you try to anticipate the future too much, not only do you outsmart yourself. You can also (as my favorite philosopher, Don Henley of The Eagles, has written) "let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy."
I've worked hard over the years to strike a balance between living in the future, the past, and the moment. But the only activity I've even come near to figuring out is mowing the grass.
It happened one afternoon last week, when I looked out the window at a dark cloud on the horizon and estimated that I had just enough time to cut the yard before a long-lasting deluge came. The fact that one of our neighbors was building an ark seemed to lend credence to this interpretation.
With the clock ticking, I grabbed the gas can for the mower but found it empty. I checked the mower's gas tank and, lo, it was full. That presented a problem. Sometimes I can cut the grass on one tank of gas, sometimes I can't. What makes the difference, I have no idea, but I suspect it has something to do with physics.
I started trying to remember the physics I'd learned in school, and how it might affect such factors as idling speed and so on. Would going to refill the gas can, now, be a worthwhile decision in the long run? When thunder rumbled in the distance, my brain cells shut down and I cranked the motor.
I decided to just cut the grass in the moment.
The cloud approached, the mower mowed, and instead of trying to eye the percentage of the yard already cut and estimate whether I was going to make it or not, I decided to breathe deep and concentrate on how green the leaves were.
Some old Eagles songs came to mind, and because the noise of the motor prevented my performance from being inflicted on the neighborhood, I sang away.
Before I realized it, only one last strip of grass remained to be cut. I started to feel a hint of joy.
Then, three things happened simultaneously: the sky went very dark, big cool drops of rain blew against my face, and the mower ran out of gas. I started to feel frustrated, bemoan my fate, question my judgment, the whole ball of wax.
I stopped and remembered what's probably my favorite Zen proverb, of all: "Sometimes when it rains, the best thing to do is to let it."
I found shelter on the porch, and meditated on how much grass remained to be cut. And on the fact that a hint of joy is way better than none.
The unfinished grass kept looking better by the moment. As did my life.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program "Music from Home" airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.