Most of last winter and into the early Spring, my time, when not job hunting, was spent curled up inside the words of every modern day spiritual and self-help guru published. Even a few of the old timers crept into my study group of one. My Socratic approach to examining my unexamined life became, well, a way of life. I couldn’t get enough. The bookshelves in my den could easily provide a library for someone seeking a doctorate in philosophy or psychology. I was like a hibernating bear, selfishly hording my survival stash for what looked like the long haul. Somewhere around Spring, a new hunger arrived. An obnoxious, belly grumbling desire to fill up the other senses. A hunger for connection. It was about this time as well, mindfulness practice became a concentrated effort. I love a challenge, and lassoing my mind into the present, certainly provided one. Becoming stronger, whether in body or thought, requires diligent exercise. I donned my workout headband, and the reward has been, stronger, more muscular sensory skills. I hear things I never noticed before. My eyes have improved too and everything is clearer, vibrating with its own unique energy. Enhanced touch and smells arouse not only memories, but curiosities. For perhaps the first time in my life, I feel in tune with life. Certainly I’ve become an open vessel, allowing whatever flows into my path, be what it is; a lesson plan. The by-product of this, has been a level of delight, contentment, and gratitude, the likes of which I’ve never experienced. Oh, I do have my days, but those moments are more often, gently surrendered, without getting swept away into the vortex of drama.
I know in the past, living moment by moment would have seemed to me to be a character flaw; irresponsible, flighty, and childish. After all, if you don’t dredge up the past, how can you ensure things don’t happen in the future? Isn’t it better to force change, take charge, plan for the what-ifs, and obsess about why it isn’t happening as you planned or fast enough? Who has time to notice the minutia in life and why would you want to? You can see why my mindfulness practice required the whip-cracking discipline of directing my wayward thoughts, sometimes many times, within the course of a day! Maybe God knew, for me to change, I couldn’t have too much on my plate and the distractions of career, men, money, and other fleeting diversions needed to go away for awhile so I could focus on moving slowly and inquisitively through a world that had more to offer than my structured, disciplined, ego fed brain cells were capable of comprehending.
My life is so simple these days.... broken down into the most basic of tasks and ordinary events. The silt’s removed. It feels clean. When I arise in the mornings now, I enter my day expecting a gift without expectation of what that should look like, or how it will arrive. The most blessed of my daily gifts always seem to come from the voice of another. I find it more pleasant to flip the switch to the off position on the voice box and turn up the volume on the ear drums. My God.... what have I missed?! I’ve “known” my mother-in-law for 22 years. Why am I just now learning what an inspiration she was to a young man who shared his struggles with her as he questioned his childhood faith and its doctrine ? His spiritual bankruptcy, led him down a path of suffering for many years. This changed course, in middle age, when he visited with her and the family. They spent many, long hours together as he talked about his doubts, the darkness of his soul and listened to her story of the strength her faith has provided her. After he left, she heard nothing from him for ten years. A few months ago, she received a letter from him, now a 50 something year old man. A spontaneous visit I made to check on her, and a philosophical conversation about suffering, enabled her to share it with me. As I read the letter, tears formed, partially because he poignantly described how that time with her, so many years before, planted a seed of hope. As a result, he has not only returned to his faith, but will become an ordained Priest in the Spring. Some of those tears were for myself. I haven’t taken the time to attentively observe, listen and open up my heart to what a powerful woman this is and how a day spent with her could be better than a week in a monastery!
My neighbor is 90 years old. He’s been my neighbor for many years. We’ve chatted superficially the past few summers, he leaning out the car window of his big white Cadillac, me cooling my tennis shoed heels to take a break from my laps around the neighborhood. He knew I liked to write. He does, as well, and has published several books. This summer, I shared with him I had started a blog. After printing the entire blog out and reading it, he called me, complimenting me on my skill and asked if he could pick my brain about writing. My brain....right! What a joy this man is. He has become my “Wednesdays with Walt”. His grief over the loss of his beloved Lucy, and 66 years of marriage has left him lonely, but neither complacent nor embittered. He has been composing letters to her, which I suggested perhaps should be his next book. That just may be far too personal for him to feel comfortable sharing with others, but what a gift to his daughter and granddaughter someday! He has been a Prisoner of War, a certified magician, a historian, a gardener, writer, and seeker. He has stories to tell. When he told me one of his books was about his time in the POW camp, he said, “I wanted it to be a historical story of my time there, and what happened. I did not write it for people to feel sorry for me.” All this time, a humble philosopher has lived right around the corner. I left our gab session yesterday thinking, he is an example of how we must never, ever allow a single horrific experience to define our lives or keep us imprisoned to the potential of a lovely future.
So many beautiful things to see, people to meet, and laughter to share, right where we live. No need to travel half-way around the world if we just open up our minds and hearts, pay attention to what is directly in front of us. I haven’t belly laughed harder at any adventure in recent memory than I did last weekend. Returning from a bridal shower with several family members as well as my three young grand-daughters, I was tuned in to the conversation from the far back seat of the van. Discussion took place between the oldest two and great-grandma about the shower game played. Four teams were created, and one team member on each was outfitted in a “couture creation” made of the flexible, breathable, fabric of toilet paper! They dissected the benefits of the mermaid style dress, the sassiness of the Las Vegas mini dress, and how of course, the one they were responsible for creating, was the most beautiful. A tiny voice from behind me sighed and said, “Girls, girls..... it was TOILET PAPER!! ” Leave it to the three year old to provide a reality check! A priceless, precious moment I could have missed if I had let my thoughts drift on the long ride home. So much we miss by being somewhere we aren’t, rather than staying alert and alive to the moments and places we are.
I spend my days, noticing, really noticing and caring about people and the world around me, wherever I am. I walk away from negativity when I can, and always try my best to be authentic. I am so grateful for this current chapter in my life. I have been given the gift of time. Time to sit and soak up the advice of the sages on my bookshelves. Time to practice all those newly learned principles in my affairs. And, time to listen and learn from the many voices from my Creator, as they are placed in my moments.
Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the small uncaring ways.
Stephen Vincent Benet