“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need”- Tao Te Ching
“Life is a balance of holding on and letting go”-Rumi
“Courage is fear holding on a minute longer”- George S. Patton
I had a moment tonight when I felt shockingly grown up, not because of any new or different action on my behalf, but because I viewed through an outsiders eyes how, at 36 my lifestyle hasn’t altered too greatly from when I was 21, maybe it’s just a little more legal now. I don’t think you should associate growing up with growing old, as the saying goes, but even if your adulthood is in remission like mine there are still times when you have the thought “I wonder how my life looks to other people who don’t live in an uninsulated shed in rural America, who don’t live without electricity, running water and/or modern sewage systems, and who have more than a few hundred bucks to their name?” Not that any of those make one a genuine adult, but they do make you poignantly aware of just how much of an anomaly you have become.
I had this realization tonight as I was brushing my teeth outside of my cabin where cooler dry air has moved the rain out and a fog has settled like a thin meringue and filled in the wrinkles of the Earth. Sirius is sitting sentinel over the burial place of Arlo dog on the back of my property overlooking the valley cut by Winnie Creek, framed perfectly by the windows of my cabin that are exposed to the southern sun and the psychedelic stare of the dog star. The ancient Romans, fearing the malevolent influence of the dog star on spring crops would sacrifice (and worse) unsuspecting pups on sight, which makes me uneasy feeling that my correlation between Arlo’s passing and subsequent placement under the paw of Sirius and the wanton torture and slaughter of canines on the pious streets of ancient Rome could be mistaken as tribute instead of a merely interesting coincidence.
Sirius fared better under Egyptian rule, serving not only as a preceding sign of the Nile’s yearly flood and necessary crop irrigation but also as a celestial manifestation of super important goddess Isis. We know now that Sirius isn’t just one star but two stars, so I guess that would make the second Osiris, Isis’ brother/husband who was killed by Set and resurrected by the queen god. But that’s life, our understanding of this big ol’ mess is always in flux, look at poor Pluto after all. The best we can hope for is to not get stuck in our ways so deeply that we are unable to let go of what we hold to be true in the moment, whether that be which god is at the helm, how the celestial bodies move, how we feel for each other or how we feel about ourselves.
We garner a perception of safety and place from our attempts at possession, control and ownership, and that can sometimes be true as in the ideal of “home” or “place” as refuge from the wild wooly world. We create a landscape of safety based on control, and while that is usually purely a facade, as a recent landowner I can tell ya even the thin layer of make believe control can be awfully comforting after a stint on the road. Other times when we extend our need for control over each other we near the Pygmalion fantasy of Greek legend where we idealize the other person as what we want them to be instead of who they are, and on the good bad scale that’s pretty bad.
Back up in the sky Scorpius is renown for his need to hold on to those things which probably should be let go of. In the summer the planet Mars lives in the clutches of the scorpion, but I don’t think it’s because he really wants to bridle the red planet, instead I like to believe it’s because deep in the heart of Scorpius lives the red giant star Antares, which some translate to mean anti- or rival of Mars. So, being of the sign myself I chose to view it as the attempt to make whole the two- Mars and Anti-Mars, to reconcile and combine the two stars in order to achieve some balance in the universe. Oftentimes we desperately hold onto those things we think we need to complete or balance our lives, unfortunately rarely is life that simple, rarely do we need yellow to match our blue to make green when what we really need to make sure of first is that we are even coloring with a full pack of crayons, so to speak. Each year I will try to reach out for Mars with my little scorpion pincers, not out of a need to control the red planet but out of a longing to make us whole again.
Far from the red plant, back on the blue planet fly fisherman are (or should be) masters in the art of relinquishing control- we lose flies, fish, weeks of our lives, relationships, and untold fortunes pursuing a few seconds at best of glory, to do what? Let go. When we step into the river we sometimes give up more than we know. Half emerged in 45 degree water, concealed under gore-tex and pruny skin, hat pulled low, sunglasses hiding our eyes, and most forms of speech held at bay we begin to let go of ourselves, we dissolve in the cold water and become a mutant hybrid of man/water/gear/fish/hope and grief/ faith and despair/coffee and whiskey. It is ironic that through all this release of the one thing we have for sure- ourselves (at least for a little while) we become more ourselves than if we never let ourselves go to begin with. Maybe Santa was right: it is better to give than receive.
Fishing with someone new is always a crap shoot. Sure, maybe they’ll know the game but then again maybe they’ll be the type to talk a little too loud a little too much, fish a little too close, be a little too emotional about the sport’s inherent ups and downs, and in turn whose invitation to come back is offered a little too late for it to work out. We are all different on the river depending mostly on how long we’ve fished together, sometimes hole hopping and bumming smokes and beers at each pass, with others almost disappearing until we drag our cold boots back to the truck. I am working hard at getting better at letting go but if some goon is kicking rocks into a still pool or using their rod like a horse whip on the trout I hold on for dear life to my temper and tongue as both are not to be lost at that moment. So maybe this letting go thing is not an across the board kinda idea when emotions and fish are involved.
Last week I spent a beautifully cold and snowy day steelhead fishing with a new friend on the Bois Brule, and I am happy to say all went well, even at my non-question question of “you feeling adventurous” right before sliding/scrambling/slipping down a 50 foot red clay cut bank to get to some rather fishy water that the run of the mill fisherman probably wouldn’t notice or try to get to. Well, run of the mill is no goal to shoot for, especially when there are spring run steelhead to have your heart broken by. The slack water along the near bank looked promising but it was the pool at the end which gave me that certain confidence that there at least should be a fish there. The rub was the log jam almost bisecting the river at the end of the pool, where the fish probably was, and where the fish would almost inevitably return to once hooked. I’ll spare you the gory details but that’s exactly what happened- take, surface flash, turn and gone into the snag with little more to do than try to hog the 20 some odd inch rainbow back up stream. That’s what we fisherman do: exercise our faith, occasionally get rewarded but often get nothing more but a mess of line and flies in the bushes behind us without fish attached, then let the fish and the moment go by rolling out our rig back into the current. What we need and what we want are always elusive, like Mars flying just ahead of Scorpius or like the 20 some odd inch rainbow with a sore mouth, but we make ourselves from what we don’t get instead of what we do. Like Hank Thoreau said “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. It’s thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”
Good ideas to let go of:
1. Your ego
2. Your ill-conceived perception of control
3. That you should have caught that fish
4. That the beautiful girl you just met feels for you even a fraction of how you feel for her
5. That holding onto negative experiences somehow define you as a person
6. That you have any idea of what is going to happen tomorrow
7. Inexpensive yet well brewed coffee exists
8. That we are dictated by our nature
9. That we are dictated by our nurture
10. That fly fishing will solve your life’s problems
Well, that wasn’t as insightful or helpful as I thought it’d be and I’m not sure #10 is right, but we’ll leave it out there for posterity. Now that I’ve burned through a thousand words trying to convince myself that you just have to accept things as they are and to relinquish our faulty idea of control, I wonder where persistence, hard work, stubbornness, dedication and commitment fit in? Let’s go back to the one that got away, or the fish story, either way. So I lost that fish to the log jam or the river current depending on how you slice it, but does that mean I have to give up on that fish? Sure I don’t have control over the fish and I can let go of that moment when it performed it’s stealthy LDR (long distance release), but can’t I have some control over the long run relationship with that one fish?
So there’s two scenarios, one where I walk away from the fish saying “I tried and since I can’t control that fish I’m happy just briefly hooking up” or another where I sit over that damn hole and keep dragging nymphs through it until I get that fish in a net. Sure I know I still don’t have control over that fish but through effort I may get the result I was originally after. I think there is just a feeling of conceding with the submission of control, like “why try, it’s outta my control” kinda thing. Maybe that is the list that should have made- what I can and can’t control. Those who have read this blog for a while might know I like to wrap up a grand idea (sometimes a little too tidily) with a nice little thought, but here I offer no conclusion, no consolation, and it is in those moments that we look to sage advice, in this case from Gautama Buddha:
“In the end these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?”
And from theologian Karl Reinhold whose serenity prayer, as cliched as I feel using it, is about as good as it gets for this conflicting thought:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”