As a tried and true Minnesotan, our Minnesota State Fair is the sign that our Summer is officially coming to an end. These twelve days of “The Fair” are filled with conversations just about everywhere like: “Hey, are you going to the Fair this year? When do you like to go? What is your favorite food to eat? Where do you like to park? I hope the weather will hold for the Fair.” Needless to say, it is pretty much what is on the mind of many, if not most Minnesotans. Every year we have record breaking attendance from the year before, which means every trip to the Fair now means the traffic is worse, the lines longer for parking (if you can find a spot!), the lines longer for EVERYTHING. And really, what it also means is lots and lots of people. I mean, masses of humanity. For someone who struggles a bit with large crowds, it also signals the beginning of what I call “Fair Anxiety”.
One wouldn’t think that being anxious about a State Fair would make any sense at all but if you believe that, you obviously have not attended the Minnesota State Fair. It’s the ruminating on which road to take to get there so that you don’t have to wait for an hour just to park. The trepidation about which side of the Fair to park at: should it be closer to Machinery Hill or closer to the Midway? Anxiety about which foods to eat first: shall I start with the corn? It’s always a good idea to start the day with fiber. What will the prizes be at the Midway this year? Which concert to attend? Should I begin with the Crop Art or the Creative Arts building????
And the people. Oh my gosh, the people. Hordes. Throngs. Acres. Thousands and thousands as far as your eye can see. As a good Minnesotan, with so many people, and knowing that we REALLY like our personal space, we spend a lot of the day saying, “Ope, sorry about that. Just tryin’ ta’ get through”. We are nice, after all.
This humanity is filled with corn dog eating, loud music blaring, free stuff being given away, prizes being won, Sweet Martha’s Cookies being tasted, cheese curds lines that go on for what seem like miles, rides being ridden, tractors and trailers and sky rides and did I mention all the animal barns? Prize winning horses and pigs and chickens and sheep and I think you get the picture. Truly, that barely even scratches the surface. So how on Earth does one maintain their Zen while approaching this delightful adventure?
Believe it or not, it is actually the perfect place to practice moments of Zen. I have learned over these years that as much as I feel the Fair anxiety creep in, every time I bring myself back to awareness, I can lean into all of these experiences and actually be present to enjoy them. It’s the feeling of overwhelming stimulation, so when I can step back, it all moves to the background and I can relax. I take deep breaths while I am driving there and remind myself that we are all headed to share in this Great Minnesota Get Together (isn’t that a nice tagline for the Fair. I am telling you , we are NICE!). If I can’t find a spot, well, I can head to a park and ride and take the bus (only $5 instead of $13 at the Fairgrounds or $20 on someone’s lawn!). As I walk towards the packed gates I take slow deep breaths and feel the Earth under my feet, the warm late Summer air on my skin, and the familiar smells wafting my way. I allow myself to take it all in; the colors, the sounds, the smell of fried dough, horse manure and likely a cigarette or two. I can be the observer and not get pulled into qualifying any of it as “good” or “bad”. Eventually the fear of the throngs turns into a gentle hug of humanity. As I look around at the faces in the lines for the cookies (I mean, c’mon, it’s Sweet Martha’s), I am filled with the reality that every single one of those bodies holds a beating heart, and breathing lungs, and a Soul, and wishes and hopes and dreams and sadness and pain and suffering. And it makes me feel like I am a part of something greater. I am playing my part. Even at the Fair.
So if you, like I, suffer from a bit of State Fair anxiety, take a deep breath, relax, and soak up all of that greasy, smelly, joyful, bright, and truly Minnesotan “nice-ness”. As a matter of fact, it is precisely the craziness and busyness that become the touchstones to bring you back to simply observing. It becomes a practice in and of itself. You tap into the part of yourself that is calm and peaceful, no matter what. Trust me when I tell you that it is totally possible to find your Zen, even there. Let me know how you do and if not, well, let me know where you are gonna be and I’ll meet you at a bench up on Machinery Hill and we’ll sit and meditate for a bit. You betcha! See you there (corn dog optional).