As I prepare for a wonderful retreat at Deer Park with Thich Nhat Hanh and friends, this reflection from last year’s retreat comes to mind.
Mindfulness often is the key to finding happiness in the present moment. And as I am reminded, being unmindful sometimes results in losing the key. After loading up the car with camping stuff, camera and some clothes for another mindfulness retreat adventure, it was finally time to go. Just a little past the late morning start that was planned. One last thing, grab the car key and go. But in my pocket no key was found. Looking, looking where a key should have been, where I might happen to put it. Checking all the pockets of the safari pants. Not in the small backpack as I looked there several times. Breathing calmly, calling nicely out to the key to please manifest. Finally, after a half hour of joyful looking it did call out, “I’m here”, in a bag with clothes. A happy moment. So with a turn of the key, and on the road for the 8 hour journey south to Deer Park.
Hours of pleasant weather and un-crowded, uneventful interstate freeway driving south. Stopping to get gas, walk, stretch and take bio breaks. Was thinking of camping up in the mountains along the grapevine, but as fate would have it, wind, clouds, then rain appeared going over the pass. Oh well, just continue on as daylight would be around for another couple of hours and camping in or near the monastery is fine, even if arriving late. Traffic began to slowww down through Pasadena, thankfully it crawled a bit but never came to a stop.
About an hour north of Escondido on the I-15, taking it easy after 7 hours of driving, I was in the right lane when in dusk’s light suddenly a board appears in my lane. A quick assessment out the window and mirror lets me know that cars are too close behind and to the side for me to instantly change lanes or drastically slow down within fast enough. So boom as the car drives over the plank. It’s clear from the feel, sound and tire pressure monitor on the dash-board that the tire has blown out. Fortunately for being in the right lane and having a shoulder to ease over into. And somehow the car behind slowed down fast enough and went on without collision. Getting out and finding the tire was quite flat, remembering seeing the spare and jack a few years ago when I got the car. After moving the travel stuff it was a relief to find the spare, full of air and ready for service. While jacking up the front end a highway patrol stopped to check on me. I told him about the piece of wood and showed him the tire. He said he had cleared off the wood about a quarter-mile back and asked if I needed any help. I just asked for my location in case I need to call someone who cares. Then I thanked him for offering help, patted him on the shoulder and said everything is alright. After he left and I was finishing changing tires it occurred to me that it will soon feel better driving down the road than being stranded on the side of the road. Tire changed and ready to go, until I reach in my pocket and again find no key. There’s a big hole in these old pants pocket. It’s getting dark then I put the flashlight on my head and look, look, look in the car, on the seat, on the ground. After about ten minutes of looking I see it calling out with a bright flashlight reflection in the weeds near where I was working on the tire. Breathing in, I start driving with the small spare tire. Breathing out I calm my body and smile to no longer be standing on the side of a high-speed Southern California freeway.
Staying alert and present into the darkness with the tire pressure monitor alert light glowing. A memory of being in Deer Park last year manifests. The key had gotten lost near the shower building. It must have fallen out of my pants that I changed out of after a shower. I looked and looked between the short path between my tent and the building many times. I looked and looked down under the porch in front of the building. Even though I still had a couple of weeks before leaving I felt a lot of anxiety. As luck would have it I mentioned to one of the staff about my unhappiness. Turns out he found the key on the ground the day before and brought it to the office. I was quite happy being re-united and not have to call someone to re-key the vehicle. Guess I’m still having opportunities in this life to find the key to happiness through mindfulness, concentration, insight, luck and grace. Perhaps there’s a way to keep the keys attached, without being an attachment.