gratitude

attention

It’s 9:42 pm on the winter solstice. The kids left this morning for a few days away before they come home to me again on Christmas Eve. I washed clothes and prepped holiday food and cleared shelves of things I don’t need any longer. At 5:30, as the sun was beginning to set, I lit a candle in a quiet house and got back to my yoga mat after far too long of an interruption. As I write this, it is dark and cold, and the dog is snoring at my side.

I have been thinking and journaling and reflecting and planning these past few days. There is something about writing things down that makes them real. I want so many things for the new year. This past year has been full of challenge after challenge, and they served me in ways I’d never expect  – always growing and always changing and always opening. But I have been on autopilot for this past three months, it seems. Life can do that to you sometimes. One foot in front of the other: pay the bills, do the laundry, tend to kids, clean the toilets, answer the emails. I’m ready to snap out of it and get back on the road of intention.

I am reading that many people are choosing one word resolutions instead of specific goals, like a theme word for your year. I have thought a bit about what mine would be for 2017 – purposeful, pursue, intention, attentive, persist. They all speak to the same thing, I guess. Pay attention. Do things on purpose. Shed what doesn’t serve me any longer.

I’m reading One Thousand Gifts again as someone passed it on as a present for me this week. I hadn’t looked through that book at all in something like 7 years, but I stumbled on her description today of exactly what has been ailing me lately. “It’s the in between that drives us mad. It’s the life in between, the days of walking lifeless… simply going through the hollow motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking…” It is a constant struggle in the world we live in to not self-protect by self-distracting, to find meaning in the motions. Writing helps me do exactly that, but even that takes time, focus, and discipline. I am ready to get back at it again.

I have also been delving into The Atlantic’s list of this year’s 50 Best Podcasts. I thought I listened to a lot of podcasts, but there are so many on here that are new to me. Number 26 is the Modern Love series spun from the influence of the New York Times’ Modern Love column – which if you haven’t read it before is worth your time, such incredible non-fiction. I was listening to an episode earlier this week about how you should always marry a man who fiercely loves his mother (wholeheartedly agree on that sentiment) and there was a line about sorrow that was mentioned in the interview with the writer, and it is an image I will never forget. She said something along the lines of “if we could see our sorrows hanging like fruit from a tree alongside everyone else’s – all the sorrows in the world hanging together… If we could pick any of them, we’d still pick our own.” As the weeks roll by here at the end of 2016 and I reflect on the year behind me, I am feeling that more and more. Even as I look at others who might hurt less in the face of their own challenges, who feel less and have less skin in the game, so to speak. I would pick my sorrows, my year, above anyone else’s. I wouldn’t trade places, even if it meant less challenge or less pain. These fruits are hard-earned, but there’s sweetness in the center.

You have to pay attention to find the sweetness though, don’t you? You pause and observe and feel it as it stings or warms or glows or washes away the things you never needed to begin with. Now more than ever, I am seeing that my soul has been washed clean this year in that very specific way that hardship and grief can bring, and I think it’s ready for the newness that lies on the other side.

In One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp also reminds us that “Life is so urgent, it necessitates living slow.” I read this, and I think of the most memorable moments that filled my year, the most meaningful ones. They were all so slow and yet urgent with their passing tide that disappears.

Flashes of memory from a year well-spent: kids splashing on the beach at sunset, my Grandmother’s hands on my face in those days when we were counting the hours, Norah lifting chubby preschool fingers to tip a soup bowl to her mouth at the dinner table, driving winding mountain roads alone with the cloudy rumble of an incoming July storm, shelling boiled peanuts in the fall sunshine on a wooden bench, wrapping lights around our little tree. The very best seconds only come when you are going slowly enough to notice them.

 

Advertisements
Books, gratitude

the way everything is met in me

So many ideas, so many things I am reading, are swirling around the same center lately. I’m sure the realist would suggest that it’s because I am just looking for the same central ideas so I notice them more, but I am such a mystic about this sort of thing. I never think it’s an accident when words make their way to me at a specific time.

I’m a fan of On Being, and I shared the latest episode yesterday. It’s an hour-long conversation with poet and philosopher David Whyte, and it is definitely worth your time if you get a chance to listen. I first ran across him about a year ago with his poem that states that “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.” It’s a passage I turned over and over in my own mind in the earliest days of being by myself for the first time.

Krista Tippet’s conversation with him touches a bit on that poem and on a lot of other things as well. They talked a bit about the “conversational nature” of life and where things intersect and take paths we don’t expect. I loved his discussion of genius when he explains that “in the ancient world, the word ‘genius’ was not so much used about individual people, it was used about places, and almost always with the world lociGenius loci meant ‘the spirit of a place.’ And we all know what that intuitively means. We all have favorite places in the world, and it may be a seashore where you’ve got this ancient conversation between the ocean and the land and a particular geography of the way the cliffs or the beaches are formed … But a more sophisticated understanding would understand it’s this weatherfront of all of these qualities that meet in that place. So I think it’s a very merciful thing to think of human beings in the same way as — that is, your genius is just the way everything has met in you.”  The way everything has met in you. To think of that – the way every piece of every thing I have experienced is met in me and the way all those tiny pieces create who I am and my life path – it’s a pretty overwhelming thought but a beautiful one, too. It makes me see people around me in a different light as well. We all have our unique genius, the way everything has met inside of us.

I’ve been reading Rilke lately, as I wrote about a few days ago, and his whole premise in Letters to a Young Poet is to fully immerse yourself in every experience, even the sad ones. To feel the weight of your own sadness so that you can find your way to the other side, too. He urges the reader to feel it all and “live the questions” which was an idea David Whyte echoed, too. He discusses this notion of feeling through questions to train what he calls “a more beautiful mind” and he insists “it’s an actual discipline, no matter what circumstances you’re in. The way I interpreted it was the discipline of asking beautiful questions, and that a beautiful question shapes a beautiful mind. And so the ability to ask beautiful questions, often in very unbeautiful moments, is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered. And you don’t have to do anything about it. You just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before.” I’ve seen this first hand. It resonated with me so much that I went straight to the transcript of the show to read it again.

I feel as though all I ever do is observe and ask questions. (You see that here if you read along because most of what I write is really just a combination of those two things.) I have so few answers, only questions. But asking these questions – what am I feeling? why am I feeling it? what brings me alive and makes me feel real and how do I do more of it? – the simple act of asking has led me to so many new people and paths and experiences that I’ve seen unfold in the past year or so. I overlook the miraculousness of it all sometimes when I am caught in my daily tasks, but it amazes me when I stand back to look and feel it and be amazed.

Rob Bell talks about this on a recent podcast of his as well. He says it’s the difference between our frantic what am I doing? what am I doing? what am I doing? that we ask internally all day as we hurriedly move from one task to another and the awe-inspired what am I even doing here? question that we ask if we are wise enough to notice our own genius, as Whyte would say, the way all of our experience is met in us to create this spirit that is uniquely ours. This life that is uniquely your own.

There is so much unexpected in my life, and I can be frantic in my daily buzzing. There are volumes left unanswered for me right now. But the genius loci  of my life is here when I pause to see it. These two kids I get to see everyday and watch them grow into their own ways. This home I found largely by coincidence that I call my own with deeper roots every passing week. The circle of people around me – some I’ve known for years, some who are new, and some who have meandered back to me somehow after absence. My job and the tasks of my daily life. This journal which began with a few observations years ago and evolved to something very different in a way only genius loci could create.

We had a visiting poet today on campus. She read a few pieces this morning, and then we had a hardy group of students and a few faculty members show up for the afternoon Q&A session with her. As I listened to her and watched a few eager student faces, I made the effort to pull back a minute, to see the true genius of what I was experiencing. That this is my life.

That I work somewhere I can park myself in a chair in the late afternoon and listen to someone talk about words and ideas. And then I go home and exhale a bit with two kids whose names and faces I didn’t know would ever exist a decade ago. And we eat and play and bathe and now I record a few things here as they sleep and my dog snores at my feet. And tomorrow, I wake up and brew coffee, and I begin it all again. The rhythm of my life full of things I love most and with a path that meanders with surprises along the way. That is the what am I even doing here? awe-inspired question I can ask myself. How did I get this life? How did I arrive here? It’s really only a result of asking the right questions and listening to what they evoke in me, but when I step back to see it for what it really is, it blows me away sometimes.

Andrea Hollander was our poet today, and she spoke a lot about the process of creating poetry and that she doesn’t consider it a good poem until it surprises her as she’s writing it. I feel that in so many ways. When I sit down here to write, when I make observations and ask the right questions, I arrive somewhere and realize that I knew something I didn’t know I knew. Like a deep recognition or remembrance brought to the surface. It’s why I record ideas here, even if they are hurried or jumbled like they are tonight.

In one of her poems, Hollander explains, “You know how it is when something / so startles you into your life — / you forget you are anything but eyes / or ears or mouth. It doesn’t have to hurt. / I’m talking about certain swells / of music your bones recognize / as if they’ve created them and now / they’ve come home.”

I hear the music today. The swell and the recognition, the feeling that my bones created it with their own genius loci. The way everything has met in me. I’m grateful for all the little pieces.

 

gratitude

the space between

I don’t know where February has gone, but I’m glad to see it’s almost over. Spring is around the corner. We’ve been flying from one thing to another, it seems. It’s made the weeks fly by.

There have been countless interruptions to our usual schedule. I spent last weekend a few hours south for an academic conference. It was both exhausting and revitalizing in that way that conferences can be, and I was happy to spend a night with an old friend since it was in her hometown. Life changes fast and in ways we never expected, but it feels so good to have old, comfortable friendships. Those that are worn-in and somehow create a space that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

Untitled

I’m not sure that completely makes sense, but it’s that peculiar way that your friendship with one person can be ever-so-slightly different from your friendship with another. The years and conversations and challenges and honesty somehow create a place that is particular to the two of you. It felt so nice to catch up and be reminded that things change and yet they stay the same.

The conference overlapped with much of my weekend, and I didn’t get the usual reset I receive when the kids are away. It was a fast wash, rinse, repeat for the week ahead. I’m eyeing spring break on the horizon and the end of the semester not long after. I’m grateful for the rhythm of an academic year and already contemplating the million possibilities for this summer.

I get the weekly COURAGEworks email. (Anyone else know about those? A Brene Brown collaboration.) And this week’s addressed mindfulness in a way that pierced me a bit — “Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness. It’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.”

It’s a fine line — to feel what’s in front of you, to let all the emotions bubble up without judgment, but somehow let them pass by and then create a deliberate space for mindfulness to think and dream about what is next. You can completely lose your autonomy when you allow your every moment to be ruled by emotion. I’ve seen this time and time again when one emotionally fueled poor decision leads to a landslide of occurrences and consequences for someone. I’m working hard to usher in stillness after whatever current emotion passes. It feels so good to think and dream with true autonomy, to not be trapped by any expectation or promise, to see open space in front of me.

I volunteered in Jude’s class a bit today. As I helped a small group through an activity on syllables, I looked around the room at all their little looks of concentration focused on various tasks – clipping paper with scissors, stamping letters on paper, sounding out phonetic letters. Kids are so good at focusing on the task at hand without all the baggage attached to it.

Untitled

I think this is why they are so good at joy. And so good at dreaming and questioning and thinking creatively.  They feel what there is to feel without shame or judgment, and then they let it pass, and they move forward to what is exactly in front of them — no more and no less. There’s a lot to learn from that, I think. There’s a lot of freedom to be found in that space between.

gratitude

transience

Jude lost both of his front teeth in the last week. The first one fell out last weekend when he bit into his sandwich across the table from me. Then he called me on Thursday as I was on my way home from work. “I lost my toof at school today, mama!” I found him in the bathroom that night in front of the mirror, trying to sound out words without the help of his front teeth. Laughing at the sounds coming out.

It’s funny that when kids are babies, you mourn every little change. The day their bony legs begin to unfurl from that newborn fold, every time they grow out of a tiny onesie. The nostalgia on that first birthday was tangible to me. Memories of birth and the early quiet moments I wanted to return to.

It seems like babyhood is particularly transient because it moves so fast, but I think that’s a wrong assumption. It’s all fleeting. The older I get, the more I understand this. Life moves and grows and changes, and you don’t even realize something is new until you look around to see yourself in a different place.

Family Pics 2015

Soon enough, his teeth will grow in. His gummy lisp will disappear. The awkwardness of his smile will be replaced by something else that will grow and change. It’s the way it goes.

And we do it, too. People grow older. People change and leave, and yet others you never expected will enter your life. The secret, I’m learning, is not to cling to every passing phase with white-knuckled panic. It’s hard though – knowing that something is not permanent when you wish it would stay. But it makes the hard stuff easier when you see that it’s just passing through. It makes it all more beautiful when you know that nothing lasts forever.

The past year has felt like a trial by fire for me. It’s strengthened me and molded me when I willed myself to sit still and weather the storm. But I feel like a season of rest is around the corner. Not decadence and luxury and extravagant reward for the ways I’ve grown, but a quiet after the storm. I feel it sometimes when I am alone and in everyday seconds with my kids. A moment to steady my pace and exhale and see the transient gifts that wait for me. Toothless grins, baby doll strollers, ballet tights with wrinkles at her knees, and his little voice slowly sounding its way through books. Quiet nights alone, more time for writing, excursions with friends old and new, and the wide open wonder of a vast blank page in front of me.

Real life is never boring when I remember that these details that are so commonplace now will give me a longing ache when I view them one day through the lens of nostalgia.