Being and Doing

See the lilies of the field

This is the line that came to me as I realized my life was pretty simple today, the to-do list more or less caught up (so, okay, I haven’t refinished the dining room chairs), and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Yes, there are weeds to pull in the garden after all this rain, but that’s an always rather than a to-do. And yes, I could spend the day clearing out the large box of photographs in the other office, but that’s such a big task I haven’t even put it on any list.

Late May into early June was pretty chaotic and busy with to-dos sticking out all over the place, rather, do-this-right-now! sorts of things and visitors and family gatherings and a film job and a trip to the farm to open it up and plants that needed ground instead of seedling pots. Last week was catch up on naps and editing for publications and more naps and nursing a troublesome knee injured in all the aforementioned too many things to do. I know all of you have had your own chaotic weeks and times and surgeries and trips and family.

But this week is simple. And I realized as I sat here this morning, I didn’t quite know what to do with no pressures forcing me into action. I’d done a lot of doing but not much being. Today is a day for being.

It’s an interesting verb, to be. Most of the time, another word tags along: I am busy, I am tired, I am angry, frustrated, happy, sad. We don’t take much time for the simple I am. And I’m probably not alone when I don’t quite know what to do with it.

Now there’s an interesting idea – being alone with being. Are we alone when we simply be? Or is the simple act of being where we are most filled?

I’m reminded of another line, one I wrote in an essay edited again yesterday: “Perhaps it’s only in waiting that something so tremulous can come into being.” 

Waiting is not one of my strongest characteristics.

Perhaps your day is also a day of waiting, of pausing in the breath of moments. I’ve heard no sirens this morning. Perhaps, even with a cloudy sky, we are all held in a moment of peace. I suspect the task is in recognizing peace and allowing it to be part of our day.

We could all use some practice in remembering how to be grateful for the times of calm. I want to remember today as I go about the hours. I want to remember that being is more important that doing, at least for right now. And right now is all we have.

Today is a day to pull out the gratitude list and add to it rather than add to the to-do list. Today is a day to practice being.

 

 

  

 

The Eye of the Needle

I’m looking for the eye of the needle again. That small opening in my chest, my consciousness, that allows me to lift myself out of the press of the moment and feel aligned with my life and purpose. Now there’s pretty big words – the bottom line, I suppose, is that yesterday I spent the entire morning getting out query letters. I’ve been trying to sell a book manuscript, and after each pause in the process of querying, I’ve revised once again, honed once again, gone at it again. A valuable process. And today, after a long day yesterday of extending myself with letter writing and four hours of teaching last evening, I’m tired – and being tired often leads to discouragement.

Ah. There’s the word. Discouraged. I knew that if I sat here with the laptop humming and the words writing themselves, I’d finally come to the issue.

What to do with discouragement? What to do with a heavy chest that longs for a crack into believing?  What comes to mind is that I’m not alone. I expect the feeling is often general these days. The to-do lists are too long. The unfinished business too massive, the struggles beyond easy repair.

The thing is, I’m not alone. I know that. All I have to do is think “Gulf” and in my mind’s eye, I see the animals struggling in oil messes, the people cleaning beaches that won’t stay clean, the turtles, fish, birds, fishermen, boats, tools, water caked in oil. My struggles are nothing compared to that. So why doesn’t my chest lighten up?

When confronted by the demons of self-doubt, I usually pick up a book. This morning, I picked up a book about Hawaiian legends. The manuscript I’m selling is set in Hawaii, so I this Hawaii legends book is handy most of the time.

The passage I just read has to do with Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic champion swimmer and world-class surfer. “Anyone who surfs knows that when surrounded by the strength of the sea, you are on your own. There is a time in our lives when each of us is provided an opportunity to rise to new heights of expertise through a confrontation with self-doubt.”

Well. I smiled for the first time this morning and the needle’s eye-opening cracked just a bit wider. Duke went on to say, “It was more as though the wave had selected me, rather than I had chosen it.”

And I remembered that the experience of going to Hawaii and the ensuing healing chose me. Whether or not the book gets published, the experience happened and it changed my life. The other experience came from writing the book and all I learned in the process. And the needle’s eye in my chest stretches wider. (If you’re wondering what happened? what happened? you can go to www.janetsunderland.com and click on Writings. Part One of Standing at the Crossroad is attached.)

Interesting, isn’t it, that “completion” can take a turn where we least expect it and the crossroad clearly marked turn here.

Mending the World

Every morning I sit with my journal and write my life: the to-do list for the day, the accomplishments of the day before, dreams, memories, thoughts, fears, physical struggles. It’s a practice I’ve had for many years – almost forty! I just realized – and fed by many teachers I’ve known through their writing: Doris Lessing, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron.

This morning as I was writing my ever-expanding-do-this-right-now! list, I felt a growing anxiety in my chest. I stopped. I breathed. Breathe, Janet, breathe. It will all come together. I picked up a current favorite teacher, Rabbi David A. Cooper.

“Each time we do something that raises consciousness, we lift sparks of holiness to new levels. This is called tikkun ha-nefesh, mending the soul, and tikkum ha-olam, mending the world, bringing it closer to its source.”

Ah. The task once more of mending the world is by redirecting my own consciousness into peace. Waaaaa waaaaa waaaaa. That’s what it always comes back to. I laughed, and laughter and consciousness are like an electrical charge, infusing the holy into everything.

“Once we enter a holistic frame of reference in which all parts are complete and are replicas of the whole, then everything in the universe, by definition, is integrally connected.”

I am once more thrown back into the “circle of my arms” as I wrote in an earlier post. I can only change this world – mend this life – offer that peace to everything I can do. And of course, that means being conscious of my actions and where I step.

But by that simple action of changing my frame of reference by breathing and releasing the anxiety I was feeling, I was able to return to being. Simply being silent and observing the world around me. This morning, the sky is a blue backdrop to the deep green of trees outside my window and the morning light slants in golden from the east. A breeze ruffles the top of the weeping willow. Yes, sure, the day may bring heat and humidity, but at the moment, out my window, there’s a silent glory. No sirens this morning, at least not yet; the birds in the thicket along the fence are even quiet.

For a moment, for this little window of consciousness, all is right with my world. That’s the consciousness I want to carry with me through the tumble of today’s tasks, and the reminder I want to give myself: stop and look and consider and breathe.  

I imagine there must be people in the world right now who aren’t pushed to the limits of their understanding and patience. I don’t know any of them, but there must be. I want to pretend I’m one of them. I want to remember that the world isn’t ending, at least not quite yet, and the tasks will either get completed today or another day. I want to remember to laugh and do my part to heal the world. Even if the world is as small as the circle of my two arms.

Going With the Flow

Fr. Klaas is a Transformational Therapist, empowering people through counselling (in-person and distance), retreats, workshops and seminars, as well as a huge informational support website Dawn Cove Abbey http://www.dawncoveabbey.org , and separate blog Voices In Dialogue http://dawncoveabbey.org/blog1/, a place where visitors can finally have a ‘voice’, too and be heard. The following post is reprinted with his permission from his blog site.

Going with the flow. It’s a nice thought and forms a nice mental picture. It’s also an excellent way to go through life. Yet, here too, words can trip us up because ‘going with the flow’ is practiced in two different ways; two incompatible contrasts. The more common way to go with the flow is what many would describe as ‘drifting’, and not just drifting, but drifting aimlessly, going from one thing to another with no connection necessarily between any of the points. Somewhat like a cork tossed about on the waves. 

The other way is quite different. While it is a ‘flow’, and the location or activity changed regularly, it is part of the stream, part of a pattern, a pattern that is clear and known. One point is connected to the last, and the ones before that, and ready to connect with the upcoming ones. Somewhat like the pieces of a puzzle or a quilt whose pattern will become distinct as the pieces are assembled. 

But in life, the pieces are not assembled into a picture, a completed puzzle or a finished quilt. One’s life is the finished product – a life made up from all the connected pieces and points, and stops and flows – all of it adding to one’s personality and character. Much like music is made from separate notes – but not randomly – they are part of an integrated whole: even in improvisations. 

What is really awesome is that each of us has a choice as to which kind of flow we’ll choose: the random one (one unfulfilling novelty after another), or the connected one which reaches down to deep inside you – and makes you feel complete, content; fulfilled.

The one is an avoidance of life; a running away. The other is a celebration of life; to be embraced. Which flow are you immersed in? 

I look forward to hearing your views on this, and about your flow. -Klaas

Taking the slow path

We’re in the last throes of the semester and students are giving persuasive speeches. Their efforts lands in either the very good or the very not good category – rarely an in-between. When they are giving speeches, I sit at the back so I don’t distract with my layers of papers and evaluation forms. It’s also easier for them to look at the entire audience when I’m not so prominent in the room.

Last week, a student sat snuffling at the desk next to me.  He muffled a couple of coughs in his elbow as kids are taught these days. “Go home,” I said to him. “You’re sick.” He nodded. “Are you speaking tonight?” He nodded again, muffling another cough. “Then leave after your speech,” I said. He shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t let my group down.”

Okay. I hadn’t been sick all semester and thought nothing more except to hand him a tissue from time to time. By Friday, my soft palette was achy and I began the regimen of Emergen-C and Air Borne. By Saturday, my throat felt like an army in dirty socks had been marching though. More Air Borne and Emergen-C. Sunday morning I felt okay so went to church. Cliff said stay home, but I didn’t. And by Sunday afternoon, I was bona fidely sick.

The past few weeks, as for everyone, have been pretty chaotic. Too much going on and too much to do and too many sudden changes in direction. Not much down time other than an evening stroll out into the yard before dinner to pull a couple of weeds, cut some asparagus, see how the flowers are doing.

“Behold the lilies of the field; they neither sweat nor toil.”

All the spiritual traditions say the same kind of thing: Look. Slow down and look. See beauty. Take time with your life. Or else (there’s always an “or else”) you get struck down in one way or another – this time with a cold, another time with a heart attack, another time with a broken leg. Take time.  That’s exactly why I walk into the garden in the evenings, to take time – but one fifteen minute stroll in the evening doesn’t solve the dilemma of the other hours.

No matter how many times we read or hear the same message, we get caught in the whirl. It’s even possible to be conscious that you’re in a whirl and still be caught. I’m reminded of Cliff’s homily yesterday on love – there are millions of songs, poems, books about love and yet we humans forget and easily become unloving.

So if being conscious of the whirl isn’t enough to stop (I’m reminded of the play title “Stop the World I Want to Get Off), what’s the answer? That play is roughly forty years old so it isn’t as if this particular time has the dibs on chaos. It’s been around; it will come back. So then the question becomes is stopping when we are caught in chaos, either in unloving chaos or too much to do chaos, the real answer?

I could have moved desks when the student next to me continued to cough and sniffle, but I didn’t. I handed him tissues and admired his dedication. From the beginning of the semester, I put an emphasis on being responsible to the community – both in the smaller groups and with the larger class as a whole. What could I say? Go home – my wellbeing is more important than the group?

In reality, being conscious of chaos doesn’t necessarily allow you to sidestep all the time. And once again, I will learn that instead of sidestepping chaos, the task is to learn to live with it. To stop being cranky because my head is filled with gunk and my chest hurts. In modern-day vernacular, that’s basically what the Buddha said: suffering is part of the human condition but you can choose how to live with that suffering.

I will stop. And rest. And put off errands and chores. And, most importantly, be at peace with my choice and my body.

Today, I’ll take the slow, winding path that leads past benches where I can sit, watch the sunlight, be at peace. Come sit beside me and look at the sunlight. And with the gift of cyberspace, you won’t even hear me sniffling.