“Yeah, we went shit spelunking,” he finished, leaning back in his chair and topping off his wine. “What else were we gonna do?”At a dinner party, the young man was regaling our table with the tale. “It was a pug,” he added, as if that explained everything.
So the story goes like this. His wife removed her engagement ring to wash dishes and, upon finishing, couldn’t locate said ring. She peered suspiciously down at Napoleon, their beloved and extremely spoiled pug. He smiled up, tongue out, ever hopeful for another table crumb. Napoleon had proven himself as having an indiscriminate palate; he had previously eaten their garden hose, the wife’s favorite espadrilles, their toddler’s Barbie. “But just the head for some reason. He left the limbs.” The wife feared she had solved the mystery of the missing ring.
So they called the vet, who chuckled, quite familiar with Napoleon and his penchant for scavenging things to ingest. The vet told them he “sees this all the time.” He suggested an x-ray to see where the ring was. “We can actually take several x-rays over the next 24 hours to track it.” Then he revealed the x-rays cost about $125 each. They decided to give it a day or so to let Mother Nature take her course.
Thus the shit spelunking. Napoleon was leashed and all bowel movements collected, where they were mined and tilled for a 1-carat marquise diamond in a white gold setting.
I recalled this story recently while trying to write a poem. Though I’ve kept a journal my entire life, I have never written poetry. In an attempt to get out of my writing comfort zone, my guitar teacher Steve, who is a brilliant Appalachian poet, started giving me weekly poetry assignments.
Though I eagerly embraced the task, every poem I have written is complete shit. This isn’t my Inner Critic being judgmental; it’s a fair and accurate assessment. I read a few to David. “Ooof,” he said, as if in pain, wrinkling his nose as if he smelled the excrement himself. “Well, you can only get better from here.”
Shamefaced, I handed a recent poem to Steve. He read it and chuckled “That,” he declared, in his slow, Southern drawl, “is not good.”
Indeed. But here’s the thing. I am rather enjoying the process. It’s a spiritual practice to find joy in doing something poorly. I think about Ms. Frizzle, the brilliant teacher who captained The Magic School Bus. “Take Chances! Make Mistakes! Get Messy!” she encouraged. In fact, no one gets good at anything without first being really bad at it. We all must take chances, make mistakes and get messy to ever succeed at our endeavors.
And if we never succeed? It doesn’t matter. It teaches us to work hard at something, even when we won’t be the best. Performing poorly develops our self-confidence, experimentation and a sense of adventure to try new things. It encourages a respect for people who can do that thing so well. It checks our ego, as our attempts are disastrous but the world continues to turn. Being bad at something is actually really good.
There is value in enjoying the process without being overly attached to the results. When we choose to let go of our unattainable expectations, we are free to write (or sing or cook or dance or act or paint) with joyful abandon.
And joyful abandon is the diamond in the steaming poo mound.
The Zen Buddhists calls this open-minded attitude shosin, or don’t know mind. This state of mind is full of possibility, perspective and enthusiastic wonder. It hasn’t been trampled by expectations, limiting beliefs and the thicket of views and opinions.
What I’m saying is that we should give ourselves a break, write ourselves a permission slip to try new things without expectation or judgment, do things more often simply for the joyful abandon the activity provides.
Still wondering about the wedding ring? They did find the diamond in Napoleon’s poo, though there was a professional ring cleaning before the wife would wear it again.
Keep mining, y’all. You never know what you’ll be really good, or bad, at until you try.