Love in this Time of Life

“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.

Growing Patient

“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.

Vocations

“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.

NaNoWriMo

Earlier this year after reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin I found inspiration to begin writing again.  I was especially taken by the idea of writing a 30-day novel and determined to give it a try.  I apparently skipped over the brief mention of National Novel Writing Month, but it must have stuck with me because I decided that November would be my month.  My reasons were weather (the first month of more indoor time), and the obvious fact that November has 30 days, perfect!

While I was enjoying the Sunday paper I stumbled upon an announcement about November being NNWM and decided to look into it more this morning.  I am now officially registered on the NaNoWriMo website and will be participating in any local events and entering my work for judging.  The last bit was wholly unexpected, but it is a useful tool to keep me on it when the going gets rough.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the 30-day novel is 50,000 words (the approximate length of “Catcher in the Rye” and “The Great Gatsby”) written in yes, 30 days.  That means 1667 words a day, give or take.

Anticipating the things that most often derail my attempts to focus on a task that has the potential to frustrate and make me want to quit, I plan on employing a few tactics in advance.

First – the ongoing office disorganization.  I will spend at least one hour a day for the next 15 days regaining order and making sure I have all of my supplies at hand.  Being able to find what I am looking for and not having the excuse to run out to buy printer paper will keep my eyes on the screen and my fingers on the keys.

I plan to follow a schedule similar to the one I have now but stretching out the writing time to allow for an additional 1667 words a day.  Part of the challenge is NO EDITING, saving that for December.  How I will manage that I have no idea, but the point is to grow creatively and resisting interrupting the flow to edit is key apparently.  As a result, I will complete each day’s writing in one sitting with my inner editor locked in the closet.

Make this my number one priority.  The dishes, the laundry, dealing with email, chatting on the phone with family and friends; any and all of those will be on hold during my time to write.  And how much time will that take?  I’m not sure and expect it will vary daily.  I will give myself a two-hour window to start and then adjust as needed.

Likely this blog will see shorter entries, some about this endeavour and others on the usual range of topics.  If you are planning on participating in this challenge, let me know, I hope to keep up with my fellow writers with encouragement and when that fails commiseration.

Life Lessons

In my time away from writing blog entries I have done little that involved writing and spent much of my time outdoors.   Which leads me to lesson one:

Just because you take a break from something, no matter the duration, you can always come back and pick it up again.  This goes for hobbies, a project you’ve lost interest in, a stubborn problem that needs a new approach.  Stepping away is not quitting and likely when you return it will be with a renewed and refreshed point of view.  In the past, once I had stepped away I would begin the process of berating myself for being a “quitter” and never finishing anything.  Once I was thoroughly beaten down, starting again was daunting.  This time I gave myself permission to take a break, and a general timetable to return and best of all realized that there is no finished, just done for now.

Lesson two:

Sometimes when life is bleakest, the reward for persevering is a powerful moment or one of extraordinary beauty.  This comes from sitting with some of my lowest feelings over the years and reflecting on the grace bestowed upon me when I emerged from despair.  It came together in  stunning visual clarity after I spent 14 long hours behind the wheel, in driving rain for a large part and on a dark, rainy, windswept mountain road at the end. My reserves spent,  I was fully focused on avoiding becoming another highway statistic.  After stopping for the night, I returned to the road to finish my drive home and the stunning beauty of a river gorge awash in fall foliage greeted me and was my companion for much of the day as one river became another and the colors ranged from molten gold to deepest bronze.

Three:

It isn’t personal, even when it is.

A long list of events in the last few months, any of which would have sent me to a corner in a funk in the past, sailed right by with hardly a ripple.  The difference is in my self-talk, a change in perspective that has allowed this shift to occur.  Even in one particular situation when a friend said, “that is such a slap in the face”, and perhaps it was.  I took it as the other person having an agenda different from mine and since she was the decision maker, her agenda took precedence.  At this rather late juncture in my life I am able to see that I do not need to take ownership of another’s opinion of me,  that I do not need to take something personally even when it was the intent.  Some might say that the fight has gone out of me, and I suppose when one finds oneself at peace, that is true.  The fire, passion and enthusiasm have not waned though, and those are the traits I cherish most in myself and others.

Being mindful in the moment, giving myself time to sit with my feelings and reframe my expectations, choosing to find my peace wherever I am has given me greater clarity and wholeness.  I look forward to resuming my daily writing, with even greater enthusiasm.

 

 

 

 

 

Nature AND Nurture

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.

Just Thinking

I am rereading “When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron.  Although nothing is falling apart in a dramatic way, nor am I going through a difficult time, I began the book again as the result of simply dusting.  I picked up the book and began to flip through it as I recalled it was helpful at a previous juncture in my life and that there is mention of mindfulness and meditation which have captured my interest of late.  I had highlighted one of the pieces of advice to help with the meditative process of emptying the mind and becoming fully present in the moment which is to catch oneself when a thought creeps in with the phrase, “just thinking”.

The point is that thoughts are not reality, but are just thinking.  That we might change them into something concrete, through analysis and planning, no doubt.  But in the moment they are nothing more and nothing less than just thinking.  So often that thinking is worrying or trying to come up with a solution to a perceived problem that may in fact exist only in thought.  Staying focused and centered in the moment requires turning off the internal chatter, letting go of the notion of control, and yes, letting things fall apart.

Falling apart is what happens, it is how life works.  In all manner of things, falling apart and coming back together is the cycle of life.  In my garden the items in the compost bin are falling apart, only to come back together as compost to give new life and energy to the soil growing my vegetables.  Once harvested, the spent plants and trimmings return to the compost bin to start the cycle anew.  It is the same with our lives.  Some things become spent and yet do not disappear, they take on a new and different value in our lives.  Perhaps the spent bit; a relationship, a job, an old stomping ground; will nourish us for the next round of these things.  But to try to hang on to last year’s tomato plant in the hopes it will produce again next year is not only folly but denies the garden the nutrients needed to grow and prosper in the future.

Our “thinking” is a way of trying to hang on to what is spent, attempting to pull the past forward into the present.  “Being” is difficult in a society so invested in intellect and thought.  Yet in those moments of just being, mindful of one’s surroundings and senses we rediscover time and again, our true selves.  As I dig one shovelful after another of rocks large and small, untangle the grass and weed roots from the dirt, I can let myself and my thinking drift away and only be aware of the hot sun on my back, the strength in my legs and arms as I work, marveling at the earthworms in the rocky sandy dirt that will someday be soil.  The state of grace of just being in the world instead of feeling batted about by a torrent of thoughts that I came to associate with being “me” is profound and enriching.

Finding this center, this quiet place, requires a realignment of habit.  Turning off the internal chatter to connect with the moment takes practice and constant reminder.  The mantra, when one finds themselves becoming enmeshed in a problem to which there is no solution, pulling thoughts from here and there to create a different reality, is “just thinking”.  And adding the further reminder that thoughts are not real, can bring one back to mindfulness of the present and grounded in the peaceful knowledge that everything is changing all the time, falling apart and coming back together, and while we are a part of the process, our only responsibility is to notice.