“Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for another hour but this hour.” –Walt Whitman
So many wait to begin at the beginning; of the New Year, of the week, of the next perceived starting point. Yet what are we doing while waiting for that perfect moment? In some cases one actually undermines the future opportunity that lies ahead. How many times is a diet or exercise program preceded by splurging on rich food and indulging in couch time?
We put off, we set aside, we make poor choices with the promise of doing better; all common behaviors. Waiting for that perfect time to begin, so many hours and days are left languishing, sliding away, unused, unrecoverable. Many long for more time to follow pursuits that seem distant, yet killing time is a common device. More than any other benefit, mindfulness offers us more time. Each moment that we can maintain our mindful presence is one well used adding to the storehouse of experience, knowledge and memory. Arriving at one’s destination having seen each sight, breathed the scents of the place, with the feel of the swirling air of the present on one’s skin, the journey becomes a piece of us.
There are dozens of lists detailing how to make the most of one’s down time; waiting being so much a part of the many errands we run. Bring a book, write a list, call a friend; each useful and certainly productive. But could we not also add breathe, listen, look about, dip you hand in the fountain?
As this day of fresh starts becomes the next and the next, let us remember that we can wait until the next day or hour to become present in this moment. We are here, we are now, and the storehouses of our lives are filled to the brim with all there is when we give over each instant to mindfulness and intent.
My first reaction when life turns on a dime is to swing into action and do something, anything to fix the problem. Yesterday was one such day and I reacted as I always do, with rapid fire decision-making and jumping in to make things happen quickly. In the cold light of a foggy fall morning though, I realized that the adrenaline charged decisions I have made in my life were not always the best ones. And even if they were a good choice or perhaps the only choice, I wouldn’t know because I never took the time to weigh the options, to look forward to the consequences and make a calm, reasoned decision. That is my goal for today.
First I need to breathe, and find the inner calm I know exists when I turn off the fire alarm reaction and look directly at what I am facing. I suspect that the impulse to charge off in one direction or another is in part a way to avoid looking the dragon in the teeth. The next step then is to look at the dragon. What is the very worst that can happen? And if it is the very worst, what will I do to adjust to that reality? If I am to do something now, what does that look like?
I have received advice over the years when confronted with any choice to look at the short-term and then the long-term. How do the choices I make today to cope with what may very well be a short-term crisis affect my long-term goals? The cusp of this decision rests on the essential question of my priorities. In the end, how do I want this to look?
Instead of making lists of things to do, which was my plan of attack; I will instead look at the options and weigh them against the goals I have for myself and the shared goals of our family. Once I have a clear picture of our priorities for the coming months and years I can decide which option makes the most sense today and then down the road.
In many ways this crisis at a crossroad is a good thing and I suspect I would have been less likely to take the steps to really analyze the most critical choices if not confronted with the need to stare hard at the components. By taking the time to sit with my life picture I will take yet another step towards choosing my life path instead of it choosing me. Ah, I feel better already!
There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” ~ Calvin to Hobbes ~ Bill Watterson
Some days it feels so good to put the to-do list away and take time to do nothing in particular. Of course we still breathe and eat and sleep, so we aren’t actually doing nothing, but the delicious extravagance of unscheduled time is a luxury many do not often allow themselves. We feel the need to be doing something, anything, that we can look back at and say, I crossed that item off my list. As we go-go-go we then impose that on our over-booked children as well. How many times has your child had to choose between one activity and another because there just wasn’t enough time to fit everything in?
Teaching our children the art of appreciating down time, simply sitting and observing and taking in the world around them. A trip to the park that does not involve soccer, or elaborate preparations; just a walk down the block to swing or not, to mosey rather than hurry, to just slow the pace to know how that feels. We owe it to our children to teach them the value of quiet that does not involve study, but just the simplicity of being.
At each stage of life these moments of doing nothing seem hard to find. But in the end, will it matter if the floor was swept 1000 times or 1000 and one? One can always find something to do, but it may also be an excuse to avoid paying attention to the quiet. Discovering the inner peace that comes with mindfulness and the sheer joy that comes from free spontaneous play are gifts we give our children when we allow them to do nothing at all. And in that nothing grows imagination, observation, love of the natural world and the ability to be self- entertaining.
We all deserve our down-time, our doing nothing moments. Breathe and jump in a pile of leaves.
“Each time of life has its own kind of love.” -Leo Tolstoy
Rereading the chapter in Tolstoy’s work “Family Happiness” from which this quote springs reminds me that this is about the sorrow of love that has changed and dissipated over time. Yet I chose the quote for altogether another reason. It brought to mind the ever-changing focus of the love that we hold within, and the varied expressions as one passes through each phase of life.
The last few days I have thought about how much I love my life; especially that in this time in my life I have allowed myself to choose a path and take the steps that carry me fully in the direction I intend to go. In the past, I felt carried along on a tide of which I had no control and felt helpless to tug against. Yet in reality I was making choices and often they were taking me in a direction that was rewarding and suited me well.
It is only in this time of life that I am able to reflect on the nature of the lasting loves and the newfound love of my way of life. I now more clearly understand the steadying nature of the love of a long marriage, one that has certainly seen its share of heartbreak, but has endured in spite of all we did to harm it. The love of my children has grown and changed dramatically over the years. At its inception it was a strong physical bond, wrapped in desire to protect and shelter, the need to hold them close. As they grew, I loved who they were, even as the physical bond lessened, the emotional bond grew. Even later as the struggle to hang on and let go all in the same movement, love became something to come back to when confusion and disconnects threatened. And now I enjoy the love of acceptance, loving them for who they are and aspire to become, much as I have finally learned to love myself. As the awful burden of expectations has fallen away, the underlying beauty of the fact of their beings returns to me as it was in the first hours of their existence.
Ultimately this love is such a powerful presence in my awareness and appreciation as a result of the great gift of being present in the moment and looking not forward, but all around. This time of life has offered up, and I have gratefully accepted, love of place, love of life, love of home and family, and the ability to revel in each of these.
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11
Wisdom is not something one can seek as much as something that descends upon us when taking the time to sit with life and let its lessons reveal themselves. For me it was slowing my reactions and responses to offenses real and imagined. Quick to imagine less than kind intent in the smallest slight, I internalized these and my responses became even more rapid. When I was finally able to step back, and let the events rest on their own, I began to see the people behind the supposed offense. To see more clearly required time for observation and reflection. Mindfulness took away the urgency; not just being in the moment, but paying close attention to my responses.
With my new-found intimacy with the present I discovered that Patience also yields Wisdom. They are inseparable and one continued to benefit the other. I suspect that wisdom is closely associated with age not so much due to accumulating experience, but the natural slowing of the pace of life that gives one time to put that experience in perspective. The added awareness that life is short, when it becomes rather obvious with age, results in a softening of the edges. The lack of benefits to taking offense push it to the “why bother ” ledger as I search for those things with the greatest payoff in the least time.
Have I gained wisdom and patience? I like to think I have grown in that regard as much as in any other. Losing the habit of taking offense and then feeling compelled to act, leaves more time for joy and acts of kindness.
“The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.”
~ Logan Pearsall Smith
All activities seem to have a bit of drudgery about them. The trip to the beach still means gathering the items necessary to enjoy the sand and sun, and removing the remnants on the return surely is not a joyous task. Most every job entails some sort of repetitive work that can become drudgery without a passion for the outcome. That love of the outcome; whether it is a family raised with tenderness and strength or a sweater knitted of a thousand stitches, lifts us above the mundane of the moment.
Sometimes I find writing sheer torture, yet it is the outcome as much as the process that drives me on. To see the words lined up in the precise order I choose and expressing the thoughts we may all share, yet with words uniquely mine, gives me the energy to accept the painful aspects and dive in. Once immersed I find that mindfulness yet again is the tool to appreciate the process, revel in the drudgery, find pure pleasure in the now.
Yesterday as I was chatting with the mentor of my change, I realised that mindfulness has been the overarching catalyst of my self-discovery. Paying attention to every instant, and then viewing it through a lens of positivity, some would call rose-colored, has added a depth and richness to my daily activities that I never imagined possible. Training myself to step back and see myself from a distance while at the same time being fully present is challenging, the rewards are great. Sometimes I give myself permission to be impressed as I would be if I saw someone else doing some of the things I do. This is very new to me, to see and appreciate who I am and what I do, and that alone is enough to propel me forward.
Each life has its share of vocations, be you a priest who writes, a mother who teaches or a business executive who mentors a child. In those activities of passion and love we find the best of ourselves and drudgery is not a force to sway us, but simply an accepted piece and often treasured of the picture, one that we do not struggle against, but accept willingly.
I have worked on my garden off and on the last few weeks, but it seems that no matter what my priorities for the day might be I find myself doing something with my garden project. And it is a project, to be sure. First off, the things that grow best here are rocks. Creating any suitable growing space requires digging and lots of it. Even when the boulders and large rocks have been removed the dirt needs to be screened to remove the next batch of rock, leaving mostly pebbles. Organic compost of some sort is a must, otherwise it is just pebble filled dirt, not even close to soil. Then there is the fence issue, or rather the lack of fencing issue, which means the deer are compelled to sample everything including the leaves of my tomato plant (yuck) to the “deer resistant” plants that I put in for color. Undaunted, I plug away.
I realized this evening as I transplanted my basil seedlings ever so carefully that this is my outlet for the nurturing part of my soul. Each night I carefully cover my rose-bush with a 30 gallon garbage can weighted with rocks; I knew rocks were good for something! All of my veggies that I have here at home are in pots, which are nightly placed in the shed, then brought out at first light each morning. As I did this again this evening, it dawned on me that the need to care for something is a deep and abiding part of who I am.
Yes, I take pleasure in the visual result of the products of my labors, be it a clean house, the yard neatly trimmed or the myriad tasks that take my time and effort. But that I wander back to the garden to pluck a spent bloom, stake a drooping pepper plant, or work just a little more compost into the soil, speaks of something deeper than the esthetics or practicality of gardens. To nurture nature and all that it holds and symbolizes, and to allow nature to nurture me, is to bring myself and this place to harmony and balance.
In the greater picture it seems that it is not a debate of nature vs. nurture; they are not adversaries. It is instead how the nature of a person or place is brought along to be their fullest and most beautiful self as a result of kind and mindful nurturing. To be fully present tending our garden of lovely blooms, be they persons or plants, giving all of our attention and care in that moment, is to be the help-mate of nature in all of its splendid variety.