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.