Breathing with a Willow

Little Rock House in Austin
Little Rock House in Austin

Beginning the journey again usually means knowing when to stop. Seems a contradiction in terms, beginning by stopping, but if life is nothing but dash, there’s no time for reflection or for seeing clearly, only for the passing tumultuous blur.

A week ago, I returned from a trip to Austin for the Austin International Poetry Festival. Those five days in Texas are a blur: workshops, attending readings, one of my poems was published in the anthology so I was part of that reading; in Bastrop, on Saturday afternoon, I gave another reading from At the Boundary.

We also had time to go by the little rock house where I once lived on a side street east of the growing Austin Interstate. We stopped and I looked, grateful it hadn’t been consumed by UT expansion.

cranesThis is mostly what Austin looks like now. Cars and cranes and tall buildings and more construction. And bumper to bumper traffic. So we took city streets. Which were also busy.

We, my husband and I, drove back across the rolling plains of southern Kansas just as night slid across the prairie. A few days earlier as we’d driven that same route south, the fields were blackened from spring burn; now they had a fresh, green crew-cut. While traffic in Austin was mostly bumper to bumper, the plains were deserted. A few cows, here and there, but they don’t drive. They just look. We banked around curves smoothly, up and down the grades. The horizon stretched in all directions and it felt as if we were standing still, encased in our car, and the earth revolved under our wheels.

But it wasn’t exactly stopping. When I got out of the car, I wobbled like a kid getting off a merry-go-round.

I didn’t stop all last week, either. There was laundry and email and appointments and meetings and yet more email. One afternoon, I went out and dug dandelions from the front garden just so that I could stop thinking and plotting and planning.

Sometimes life needs time to catch up with me, and I need time to catch up with my life.

George Kubler wrote, “The instant admits only one action while the rest of possibility lies unrealized.” In other words, if busy is all that’s going on, it’s hard to entertain other possibilities. Solitude allows time to reclaim the past and choose which parts to carry forward, to process in the process, to dance the space between doing and being. Living in our modern world with fast-track communication (and fast traffic) leaves little time to simply be or even time to think very clearly, but time is a relative quality and has no value of itself although we do say, “spend time.” Only we don’t. We use it as if it’s a renewable resource.

Each year at the beginning of the year, stories abound on how to exercise more or eat better or invest better—you know, all those New Year’s resolutions. This year, many emphasized how and where to unplug from the demands of technology and find quiet time. While quiet seems to be the new luxury, it’s possible to have, right here, right now, no travel plans necessary, no visa required, no traffic.

Each morning, if even briefly, I practice stopping. I sit in the rocking chair by the window, hold my first cup of tea, and look out the window, watch the willow dance. I breathe. My shoulders, neck, back, head relaxed. This morning, staring out the window, I realized the night had been filled with rushing about dreams. Fancy that. A week from tomorrow (how did I manage to create two Texas trips soooo close together?) I leave for Houston for a family gathering, celebrating a fiesta de quinceañera for my great-niece, the only daughter in her family of boys. The Aunties (my sisters and me) show up for family celebrations.

This time I’m flying. Someone else will drive wherever I need to be. A sister, nephew, niece, there will be no shortage of drivers. And since the Aunties are from a farther west time zone, I’ll have the early mornings to sit with tea and stare out a window.

Practicing deep breathing, singers call it breathing into the diaphragm, takes practice. I’ve practiced a long time. It helps me stay in my body instead of my head. Breathing taught me to trust my body; breathing is the anchor that establishes trust in the journey.

Wherever that journey is taking me.



32 thoughts on “Breathing with a Willow

  1. Again, your post left me speechless. I love your writing so much.

    This paragraph especially, “A few days earlier as we’d driven that same route south, the fields were blackened from spring burn; now they had a fresh, green crew-cut. While traffic in Austin was mostly bumper to bumper, the plains were deserted. A few cows, here and there, but they don’t drive. They just look. We banked around curves smoothly, up and down the grades. The horizon stretched in all directions and it felt as if we were standing still, encased in our car, and the earth revolved under our wheels.”

    Absolutely beautiful.

    1. You always bring a light to my eyes and a smile to my face with your comments. Thank you so much. And after that post, I went back to Texas ten days later, to Houston, by plane, to attend a celebration of the family. I guess that’s my next post. Hugs to you, Chica.

  2. Reblogged this on Call of the Siren and commented:
    “Sometimes life needs time to catch up with me, and I need time to catch up with my life” — so says Janet Sunderland in one of her latest WP blog posts. She’s been posting some very nice auto-biographical insights, and you should check her out. I’m happy to reblog her on Call of the Siren since my blogging pockets are empty right now … and borrowing posts like this one nicely adds (steals) a little value for my blog!

      1. Thanks also for the Alejandro Jodorowsky book review. I didn’t know he’d written one. Not sure where to buy it but I expect Amazon will carry it eventually…or now. I’ll have to check. J.

  3. Janet, your post was intoxicatingly interesting!
    I’m off to bed and must admit that it’s been a busy work week so far but I will comment better and more on your post when I catch my breath… Hope that’s OK: )
    Is it the weekend yet?
    Cheers my friend!

    1. No, not the weekend….barely Wednesday. Today I’m home ALL DAY! and have time to catch up with comments. You do have a way with words: “intoxicatingly interesting!” my my.

      Thank you! Hope it begins to slow down a bit for you, too.

      1. Today was finally less at work and more ‘me’ time. Your post seemed so fitting to my “kitchen sponge” one that I wrote on Saturday — now I see how digging in the garden was so important and needed for you to do. I like how you say you need to start stopping. It sounds like an oxymoron but it is exactly what I need to do — I’ve been mindful of it for the past year or so — but at times, life catches up with my best intentions and work, traffic, subways, crowds etc. make me feel overwhelmed.
        I could almost imagine the lazy cows in the fields and the spring burn of the crops. I’ve never seen that part of the country before but your description makes me feel as if I’m there.
        I do hope soon to dedicate more time to breathing to stay in my body and not my head..I keep making excuses about being late in the morning, or too tired etc. You inspire me to take better care of myself! Inner and outer body!
        Have a lovely rest of your evening and thank you for your calming, soothing words.
        Greetings to you from NY,

      2. Well, life overwhelmed me there for a couple of days too. Sorry to take this much time to reply.

        One of the things I do, and I realize my time schedule is different from yours, is plan a fifteen minute stopping time each morning when I first get up to sit and write in my journal. Sometimes, if the day allows, I write longer. That’s the ritual that keeps me going and helps wake up my brain for the day. I hand write in the journal because I need that movement of my hand to wake my right brain, especially. I’m a visionary and a visual thinker and a dreamer, so the left side gets a workout all the time, but the right side gets a foggy overnight. So I write. I think “going to work” can be such a drudge thing to do first thing so we often sleep as late as possible. But maybe 15 minutes early to write might give you that stopping time before tackling MASS (and I do mean masses) transit.

        I’m so honored you like my writing. Just posted links to two recently published poems. When you get a chance, go in and click on Publications. They are, by the way, both travel poems.

        Keep your sense of humor Chica. That’s what really gets you through. J.

      3. Dearest Janet,
        No worries at all — I completely understand about not being able to reply! I too have run around this week and the chilly wind still remains here in NYC and doesn’t want to leave us just yet, which renders me more in need of quiet time.
        Your advice of setting aside 15 minutes to journal is a great one. It seems my mornings are so frantic, running to get dressed and go…out into the mass transit as you so aptly put it! I must, must slow down…and journaling is a great way to do so…plus the benefit of handwriting instead of typing is definitely a plus. Thank you for your wisdom and advice in this!
        I’ve just read your poems and they are as enchanting as you are!
        I’ll definitely heed to your advice about keeping my sense of humor. It is indeed what gets me through!
        Sending very sincere wishes for a lovely weekend!!

      4. I remember NYC and cold rains….not pleasant. And messy to boot. It’s raining here in KC, too, and chilly weather with it. In best farmer fashion, I tell myself it’s good for the garden — and it is — but I’d really like to put away my fleece vest for the season! I put it away; I pull it out again. Ah, well.

        Thanks for reading the poetry. So glad you liked it.

  4. Seeing your little rock house reminds me of when my siblings and I went to Houston a few years ago to find the house where we lived as young children. I hadn’t been to Houston in over fifty years. The present owner invited us to come inside and we found many things that were just as we remembered. I think it is a magical thing to happen upon a home still there. In another vein, I understand what you say about “stopping” before you go forward. I have been taking time for reflection about the degree of physical difficulty my Costa Rica trip cost me and deciding where to go from here in the matter of traveling. In the end I’ve decided on a six day small group writing experience. Nothing in the travel catalogues is more appealing. 🙂

    1. A six-day small group writing experience?? Sounds like a perfect trip.

      I’m so glad the owners of your childhood home were kind enough to invite you in. And yes, it is magical to see a home still standing, still home. And the best part of the rock house in Texas (I didn’t ask to come in) is that the current residents are taking care of it. The walkway is new and the rock face looks like it’s been steam cleaned. That made me happy.

    1. Thanks so much Phil. And yes, I expect the party will be great fun. It always is when the family, or whichever of us it happens to be, gathers. Exhausting, usually, but fun!

      Looking forward to seeing you soon!

  5. I like the house. We’ve been told Austin is a great place, possibly a place to retire someday, but it also sounds big and busy. Of course, we’re living now in a suburb of Chicago, which isn’t exactly small town living, although it is in a great suburb with lots of green space.

    Safe travels.


    1. I don’t know about retiring in Austin. It is a great town, lots going on, but the traffic is crazy. And bumper to bumper most of the time, on both the ground level and elevated level of I35. City streets are more passable, but they get crowded too. There is a bus system but that’s about it in terms of public transportation. And there’s space so Austin is both growing up and out. The northern suburbs are crowded too. And expensive. It seems California and Houston have discovered Austin. However, if you want smaller living, Bastrop might be worth a look. It’s growing too but not yet crazy. Abut 30-45 minutes southeast of Austin so very accessible to the city. It’s out in the tall pines.

  6. … helps me stay in my body instead of my head !! Nice. My Dad used to say Rosanne your mind is far away, only your carcass is here! 🙂 Trying hard to practice deep breathing and mindfulness.
    The Rock House looks so serene ..may it remain that way for as long as it can: )

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Rosanne. Nice observation that the rock house looks serene. And it was. Close to downtown but far away in energy. I liked that little corner of Austin a lot when living there and it’s still liveable a liveable 5×5 blocks or so area. Small houses, small yards.

      I wonder…maybe mindfulness needs to be renamed mind-lessness!!

      1. I moved from a small house to a larger house as it was closer to my church and my sister .. extremely convenient but I miss my little house!!
        Something really to think about. Perhaps mindfulness will or should lead to mind-lessness in its purest sense (not in the
        sense of vagueness) … living from the heart instead of rationalising everything. Thanks for the thought…

      2. I understand missing your small house. We bought this 1924-built two-story house in 2003 and now it’s full. And I moved from a 600 sq. foot house!! We’re grateful when we can spend a week up on the farm. Lots of space, but little house. And prairie. Always the prairie.

        So glad the mindlessness resonated with you. It sure helps my head from time to time. 🙂

  7. I enjoyed seeing the rock house in Austin. OI agree with you about the rock house. I hope that it’s not consumed by UT. Probably at some point it will be and what a shame/.

    You certainly have been busy. Please don’t wear yourself out with all the activities. But I know that these things bring you joy and help you to be creative.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne. Yes, I suppose that whole little corner of Austin, about 5×5 blocks more or less, will eventually be consumed, but at this point, there’s no direct in or out of it, have to wind around a little. And it’s already a pretty old house. The style of the area looks like 1940s bungalows. Presently, UT isn’t tackling crossing the Interstate except where there’s already one ready exit off the highway. Mostly it’s growing north. And south. It spreads all along the west side of I35.

      I seem to stay busy, that’s for sure. But I’m slowly dropping one thing or another, finishing up others, and focusing on getting the writing done. That is, after I dash down and around and back from Houston!

  8. Sad to hear that Austin is getting so busy and urban. Last time I was there was in 2006 and I rather liked the place. Your workshops sounded really exciting, though! A large chunk of my family lives in various cities in Texas. Enjoy your family gathering in Houston!

    1. I expect there will be a fun post to make on the dinner/dance celebration (in the evening before Sunday morning mass)! I’ll take photos and post the best and a wrap-up. I’ve only seen a quinceanera from a distance when I lived in Mexico City. This one will be close up and personal!!

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