Begin by watching the breath. Observe its rhythm, its quality. Maybe it is shallow and strained. Notice smells, like air-conditioning tinged with exhaust, or the unmistakable whiff of Cheetos and strawberry BubbleYum wafting up from the back seat of the car. Breathe in it. Recognize any emotions that come up, such as doubt, regret, or fear. After a few moments, open your eyes. You will still be in traffic, staring at the tall sign of the amusement park a half-mile away.
Early in the trip, discover abundant moments to practice stillness: idling in traffic at the front gate, and again in the parking lot. There’s also all the time you spend waiting in line for tickets, waiting in line for the restroom, waiting back at the ticket counter, and then back at the restroom, and later on the bench outside the restroom, where you wait for your spouse, who is somewhere near the back of the line.
After an hour or so, notice the Ferris wheel. Skip toward it. Climb into the car and sit there like an excited little kid. Wait until the Ferris wheel starts moving to remember that you don’t enjoy Ferris wheels. Listen to your stomach start to bubble and fuss. Take a moment to contemplate samsara. Remember how you always think it will be fun to ride the Ferris wheel, and then every time it starts moving, you feel overtaken by nausea and dread. Also take note of your habitual decision to ride the Ferris wheel after rapidly consuming a funnel cake and orange soda.
Notice any emotions that come up. On second thought, don’t think about things coming up. Focus on the horizon and stay with the breath.
Stumble off the Ferris wheel. Your kid will pull you toward the log flume. Pretend to be astonished—not horrified—as you watch as two people sitting in a plastic toy log plunge down a steep hill and coast into the water with a giant splash. Casually walk up to the person controlling the ride, who looks about 15 years old. Ask him a thoughtful, articulate question about the maximum speed of the log. Hangonjustasec as he finishes his text.
“I dunno,” he will say as he guides an empty log toward you and your son. “I guess it’s like, fast, man.” Watch this response delight your kid, who pulls you into the log. Reach for the seat belt and discover there are no restraints. As the flume slowly pulls away from the steady, unwavering shore, observe how your rapidly rising fear of death drowns out the squeals of excitement coming from your kid. When he turns around and asks you if you’re okay, tell him the truth, which is no, then yes, then no again. Now is a perfect time to embrace uncertainty.
Observe your breath as you and your kid ascend a gigantic hill. Listen to your labored exhale. Notice your fear of death start to transform into a simple and slightly hopeful inevitability; there are, after all, endless rebirth possibilities. Perhaps you’ll return as a cactus, or an eagle, or a table lamp—something that could never set foot in a park like this.
Right before the drop, your kid will casually raise both arms in the air, turn around, and tell you to let go. Let go? Debate whether your kid is very stupid or very wise.
You will plunge. You will scream. You will survive.
You will be tired. Your clothes will be wet. Remember that all things are impermanent: the emotions consuming you, your energy, your voice, your money. Seek refuge. Tell your spouse that you’re just going to nap in the car for a few minutes. Or a few hours. Take the keys. Turn around and walk toward what you think is the exit. Discover the janitor’s quarters. Turn the other way. Ask a person wearing a chipmunk costume where the exit is. The chipmunk will squeak three times and point to the direction you just came from. Meander down a narrow, bush-lined path that opens to the infinite expanse of the main parking lot.
Walk quickly to the section where you parked, DB154. Or was it UM240? Turn in circles. Spot a car that looks like yours. “The car!” you cry aloud, both shocked and proud that it only took you 20 minutes to find it. Point your clicker toward said car and try to unlock it. Wait in the vast silence of the parking lot. Walk up to the car, peer inside and notice the spotless interior, devoid of Cheetos crumbs and BubbleYum wrappers. Walk in the other direction. Spot your car. The car! Point, click, wait. Silence. Turn around. Walk away. The car! Point, click, wait. Silence.
Discover the car by recognizing the exhausted pile of humans sitting next to it. “We’ve been waiting for 45 minutes,” your spouse will say. This is not a complaint, but rather a statement of wonder and bewilderment. “Where have you been?” the kids will ask. Do not respond. Climb into the car. Your family will fall asleep within seconds.
Realize that your kid’s question was a koan. Where have you been? Realize that you will have at least an hour of sitting in standstill traffic on the way out of the park to try and enlighten yourself with an answer.
[This post was originally published on August 14, 2016]
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