The Abyss

I always liked the phrase, “Go with the flow.” It is one of those great bits of advice that encourages the observation of the obvious. We’ve had a lot of “flow” down here in the San Luis Valley this spring/summer with the rivers being so high and people from Texas (sorry, but it’s true) trying to drive their jeeps across the rivers anyway.

But I’m not sure we should always follow it. I think it depends on what the “flow” is. If it’s a river running high and fast, yeah. If it’s the ascendancy of evil? I am not sure. The I-Ching (which is all about going with the flow) advises to make progress in the good as a way to fight evil. I think that’s good advice, but no two people are going to agree about what “the good” is.

As part of learning about China, I studied the I-Ching a little, not so much as a tool of divination but as work of philosophy. It has a lot to say about danger and how to escape. Sometimes you can’t escape. You simply have to survive. That’s the message of Hexagram 29, danger. The image is water on water. That’s about as fucked as it gets because, apparently, this abyss is not yet full at which point the water would begin to drain away.

The lines are interesting, too. In the first line, a person is trapped underwater and makes everything worse by going into an underground cavern which is 100% likely to be flooded. In another line the poor guy is unable to make up his mind and ultimately ends up in the same cavern. There’s little possibility for progress in this hexagram. It’s all “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” But it doesn’t matter what you do, determine to stay and wait it out or fight your way out of the hole, you’re in deep, uh, uh, water. The only solution is to let the water carry you out of the abyss; to do that, you must float… If you float you are literally “going with the flow.”

Five years ago today — according to my Facebook memories — I filled out the paperwork to list my house in Descanso, CA, and put it on the market. The date I chose for that was July 18. Did I want to? No, not really. I’d hoped — planned — to retire there in the friendly mountains and live in the enchanted cottage forever. I picked that day because it was the six-year anniversary of ejecting the Evil X from my house, AND it would be the last day I would ever teach anyone anything (on purpose). Everyone said I was brave, the courage part was long over by the time I listed my house. It took courage to see what was really in front of me, to face reality, the flooding river. That happened in the Antler’s Hotel in Colorado Springs in March of that year when, after looking at some houses in Colorado Springs, I filled out my retirement papers. I didn’t want to, but I felt I was being pushed by powerful and invisible forces.

Leaving teaching and leaving CA were two things I hadn’t imagined, but the two wondrous things had been transformed from something great to the abyss. Staying would shove me further and further underwater financially, and I had grown to hate a job I had always loved. Fighting it was absurd and I loved Colorado. I allowed myself to float to the top of that mess. I remember vividly the night I left for good. I locked the front door and drove down the mountain. I stopped at McDonalds for dinner which I ate in the car. I felt as if I were weightless.

19 thoughts on “The Abyss

  1. I could throw some Nietzsche at you about staring at abysses. Instead, I’ll throw some Talking Heads at you about letting the water hold you.

    Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
    Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
    Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
    Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

  2. That was beautifully written, Martha. I felt every emotion involved. I wanted to smile proudly, laugh heartily, hug you gently, and most of all, I feel great affection for the woman who’d done all she could and moved on and the moving on was worth while, beneficial and brought peace and happiness. Love this!

  3. Very interesting post, Martha. I didn’t know any of that about the I-Ching and going with the flow. True though, that people will all define ‘good’ in different ways and with different perspectives. You did a brave thing five years ago, one of life’s sea-change moments, and it was clearly the right move. I’ve often found that it’s the moves we make that people say we’re mad to do that are the ones that work out for the best. 🙂

    • The whole Taoist thing hinges on how water breaks down stones. It’s a big deal.

      When I made that big move, I think people thought I mad to do it because they weren’t in my shoes. I took a clear look at my probable income and the reality that I was done with teaching and found a town in Colorado where I could afford a house and moved there. I didn’t know anyone, but you know I think we kind of make our lives work or not. I knew that even if I never made friends here I’d have dogs and mountains. Two out of three isn’t bad. ❤ But I still have friends who can believe I really did that. 😀

      • This is true. People can never understand our motivations as they’re not living our lives. I’m just about to embark on my great Welsh castle wander and many think I’m crazy to do that. But they’re not in my head so they don’t understand the reasons. At the end of the day, we don’t owe anyone explanations, and for what it’s worth I think you made a brave, life-changing decision and I really admire you for it. Too many people play safe and their lives lack adventure and advancement because of that. It’s clearly worked but for the best for you so your instincts were spot on. And you have lots of blogging friends to support you too now. ❤ And your gorgeous dogs. ❤ 🙂 All power to the brave! 🙂

        • I don’t see how a Welsh Castle wander is crazy at all. I’ve done stuff like that often. My move to Colorado wasn’t brave. I had no choice. I had to go somewhere and Colorado was home. I really couldn’t afford to stay where I was. The only way to avoid bankruptcy was to sell out and get out. It was necessity. I was scared, definitely, but I had a huge problem. But I totally understand what you’re saying and I appreciate it ❤

          Others of my ventures, though, probably we're brave. I am propelled by curiosity (I think you are, too) and that's a powerful force (for good) IMO. I wish I could join you!!!! I love your idea. Will you go see Tintangel? I really look forward to reading all about everything. ❤

          • Thanks Martha. Sometimes, though, doing what you have to also takes great courage. It’s great that you’re a bit of an adventurer too. Someone who doesn’t think I’m bonkers! 🙂 ❤
            Yes, I am propelled by curiosity – mostly about the Middle Ages! I wish you could join me too, but it'd be lovely to have you along with me vicariously as I'm charting it all on the blog (my turn to plug my stuff now!) I'll be mainly walking, but will take a boat for Anglesey island and fly the Caernarfon to Harlech leg to get some aerial pics before visiting Harlech on the ground. Here's the link for an outline of the adventure.
            ❤ 🙂

            • Thanks for the link — I haven’t been “following” much because I’ve been “in” China. I will be following your adventures and wishing I were along. ❤ And no, I don't think your bonkers. I went to Verona in 2004 to study Italian and looking at medieval frescoes and follow Goethe. Life interrupted the adventures for a time but that's OK, too. I think, also, my idea of "adventure" changed when my body started breaking down though now it's allegedly repaired. Do EVERYTHING Alli! Immerse yourself and love it with all your heart. ❤ ❤

              • Oh thank you Martha. I will do just that. ❤ Thank you for your kind encouragement. It means a lot.
                Your adventures in Verona sound really fascinating. I know life does get in the way sometimes, (we have an autistic son) and I guess that's where we come back to 'going with the flow'. It's precisely because of that uncertainty that I think it's important, wherever possible, we should grab adventures and opportunities when they present themselves. Luckily, our son Nathan really enjoys going to castles, so usually things are OK. Think positive. 🙂

                • It can be so hard to go with the flow. When I couldn’t walk (run) like I used to I had to learn to go slow and get something from it without feeling like a failure. I still get choked up thinking about all I missed in the speeding years but on the side, I had the speeding years and they were magnificent. We learn so much just from living and paying attention, I guess. Definitely with you on grabbing adventures. Right now mine is getting on my bicycle. I never imagined that… But whatever 🙂 ❤

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