Never a Dull Moment

Unfortunately, there is still snow on the ground, even though it’s April. Fortunately, a robin convention is underway in my front yard and there are crocuses blooming alongside the stone wall.

Unfortunately, I thought I’d been left off the guest list to a dear friend’s surprise birthday party. Fortunately, it turned out that the hostess had an old email address and was wondering why she hadn’t heard from me — just as I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from her.

Unfortunately, I’d already made plans for that evening but, fortunately, I was able to stop by the party long enough to be part of the surprise, have a glass of champagne, and wish my friend a happy 50th.

Unfortunately, my son Jack and I had a horrible conversation on Friday that kept me awake, tossing and turning all night. Fortunately, he called the next day to set things right, and we both felt much, much better.

Unfortunately, a good friend is facing a frightening biopsy this week. Fortunately, he sat at our dinner table on Saturday night and was reminded how much love and support surround him as he takes the first step on this journey into the unknown.

Unfortunately, none of my son Henry’s many applications have resulted in a summer internship or job offer. Fortunately, he decided yesterday to take a leap and attend a meditation retreat for pianists — a big step outside the box that may take him right where he needs to go.

Unfortunately, the huge brush pile my husband and I were burning yesterday sent a wild spark into the field. Fortunately, friends and neighbors came quickly to our aid and together we were able to stamp out the fire before damage was done.

Unfortunately, I was so sore and exhausted after a long day of hauling brush and tending raging fires that I could barely move my tired body off the couch last night. Fortunately, Steve made his own dinner and emptied the dishwasher and said, “Let’s go to bed early.”

Friends keep asking me: “What is it like, coming back to the ‘real’ world, after a whole month away?” So far, I have no good answer to the question. Life is what it is, what it’s always been. I am who I am, the very same person I was before I had the lovely opportunity to practice yoga and meditation for eight hours a day. And yet, there is something going on here that feels a little bit different.

I think of a book that our family adored when Henry and Jack were small, a book by Remy Charlip called Fortunately, that we read aloud over and over again. “Fortunately,” it begins, “Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute.”

The charm and appeal of this wonderful picture book is the speed with which Ned’s luck turns from good to bad to good again. He’s up, he’s down, he’s up, he’s down — until, of course, we realize right along with him that there’s no point at all in judging any of the crazy things that happen to him as either “good” or “bad.” They just are, and, at the end of the day, at the end of the book, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

And that, I think, is one thing I learned in my time away. I can continue to go through life keeping a tally sheet of the “good” stuff and the “bad” stuff, or I can let go of that kind of judging and comparing all together. As I practice simply being present, living in the moment that is right now, I come into a closer relationship with an inner self that is not at the mercy of every thought or fear or perception that passes through my busy mind, but that somehow stands apart, watching, abiding, and holding faith that everything will turn out fine in the end.

My “witness consciousness” is still a toddler, which is to say that this non-judging, non-reacting self is not terribly reliable yet. (That awful phone conversation did send me into a tailspin of worry and frustration, after all.)

Yet, I am growing fond of this quiet, less reactive part of me. I want to know her better, to encourage her presence. Sitting on my yoga mat, allowing my own breath to be a doorway into the moment, I realize how good it feels to place my trust in the rightness of things as they are. “The seed of suffering in you may be strong,” writes Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”

What a simple, radical idea: allowing myself to be happy. I don’t have to put happiness off, until some future day when everything is just as I want it to be. In fact, I can be happy right now, just by embracing what is — the whole messy, imperfect ball of wax. Instead of being buffetted about by a swirl of emotions, self-doubts, or fears, I can watch life unfold with an appreciative eye and a grateful heart.

The other day I had tea with my friend Pam. It was the first of April, and we were watching it snow — hard. “Never a dull moment,” she said, smiling. So true. So obvious. So profound. As soon as I stop judging, complaining, comparing then I am free to become a full participant in the great swirl of energy that is life itself, with all its close calls and wacky surprises and unexpected twists and turns. Unfortunately, things never really go as planned. Fortunately, they have a way of working themselves out. Never a dull moment. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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  1. Hi Katrina!

    I’m so glad you mentioned Charlip’s story, Fortunately. We haven’t read it, but I know my 5 year-old son would love it.

    It seems like a great way to introduce the concept that all events are neutral – and that we are the ones who are telling the story about the events – good, bad or indifferent.

    It reminds me of Liehtse’s famous parable of the Old Man at the Fort:

    An Old Man was living with his son at an abandoned fort on the top of a hill, and one day he lost a horse.

    The neighbors came to express their sympathy for this misfortune, but the Old Man asked, “How do you know this bad luck ? The fact is that one horse is missing and there is one horse less in the stables. That is the fact. Whether it is good luck or bad luck – that is a matter of judgment.”

    A few days later, his horse returned with a number of wild horses, and his neighbors came again to congratulate him on this stroke of fortune, and the Old Man replied, “How do you know this is good luck? The fact is that there are more horses in my stable than before. Whether it is good luck or bad luck – well that is a matter of opinion.”

    With so many horses around, his son began to take to riding, and one day while riding a wild horse he was thrown off and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came around to express their sympathy, and the Old Man replied, “How do you know this is bad luck?”

    A few days later a war broke out and all the able bodied men were forcibly conscripted into the army, sent to the war front to fight, and most of them were killed or wounded. Because the Old Man’s son had a broken leg he did not have to go to the front and his life was saved.

    I’ve learned that if I can reserve judgment, I give myself a chance to let events unfold to create my own story.

    I’ve learned that nothing is more important than choosing to tell a story that feels better.

    Thanks for this post, Katrina, and for reminding me that the choice to craft a better-feeling story may seem to be a stretch sometimes, but the peace that comes with that choice is its own reward.

    And it’s so true that I would be bored to death if things always happened as I hoped and planned. :-)

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I know that story, too! There’s a wonderful CD of Odds Bodkin telling it, and it was another favorite in our house. Too bad we forget that we do have a choice about how we respond to the random, wild events of our lives — even if we don’t get to choose the events themselves. Such a great lesson for our children to learn. . .from us! Thanks for this reminder. And I love your phrase, “choosing to tell a story that feels better.” Yes!

      • Hi again! Thanks so much for your kind reply.

        I didn’t know about the CD, so I will be sure to check it out.

        My son is pretty willing to practice this concept saying things like, “When I think of … I feel sad, but when I think of … I feel happy.”

        But there are also plenty of times when he’s quick to tell me “Mommy, I’m really mad right now. I am NOT going to tell a better-feeling story!”

        I know my work is not to be attached to him always feeling happy, but, boy, is that hard!

        I am, however, committed to showing him – especially through my example – that feeling better is always choice.

  2. Here, here! Your words come — as always — at just the right time. I had a horrible March, and so far it’s bleeding into April. It occured to me today that I’m tired of feeling crappy. So…maybe I should make a decision to stop going on and on about how awful things are and embrace life simply for What It Is right now. I am heartened by the fact that fortunately — and unfortunately — things never stay the same for very long. Great post!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Yes, you make another great point. Life really is like the weather in New England; if you don’t like what’s happening, wait a minute, and it will change. It always does. I do hope you have a better April! And just think, a year from now your infant will be a toddler and everything will be completely different.

  3. A tidbit of wisdom from a priest friend – if you want to see God laugh, tell Him you have a plan!

    It has been my experience that, with the passage of time, most of the “bad stuff” really isn’t that bad at all. I remember telling my kids when they were upset over something that, in the grand scheme of their lives, the bad grade on a test / losing a baseball game / not being invited to a party would not really matter. It was more important how they handled the disappointment and moved forward.

    We need to have the lousy things in order to experience and appreciate the good – we just need to focus on the positives and realize that the negatives will eventually come to an end.

  4. I love your way of sharing wisdom. So down to earth, yet so philosophical.

  5. This is right up my alley…kind of like “things happen for a reason” or “it’ll all turn out for the best” — even though you don’t know the reasons at the time, and there really isn’t any “best” or “worst”, things happen to us and we roll with them, hopefully taking the good and letting the bad slip away without too much of a fuss.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

    The ending reminds me of the conclusion of John Kehoe’s book, “The Practice of Happiness”, which states that the sercet of happiness is to decide to be happy.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      And that is indeed a choice we can make every single day, no matter what is happening around us. Radical, eh?

  7. Laura K. says:

    Thank you for sharing such helpful philosophy! Now that I’m entering my “Middle Ages”, I can appreciate such things much more than before.

  8. Love this post. Here’s my fortunately/unfortunately tale:

    Unfortunately I have many, many walls to paint and items to pack. Fortunately I have a wonderful home I’ve been blessed to live in and will be passing on to another family some day soon!

    Things are nutty here. I’ll be more ‘in touch’ later. We plan to be in NH a few more times before we leave the East coast (Grammy is so very sad that her babies are leaving). We’ll try to come by and see you before we go.

    Glad to have you ‘back’. :)

    Judy

    • An add on: I think of our poor world neighbors in Japan so often as I’m painting and packing. I’m so very thankful that I have a safe, dry, warm house to ‘have’ to pack up.

  9. Katrina,

    So much of what you wrote echoes my own feelings of going to a teacher training and then coming home to my life. So much of the teacher training was different than I thought it would be. It was wonderful but also scary and hard. So much of my life – even after just 2 days away – seemed so messy (and loud!!) upon return.

    I seem to always fight “what is.” Thank you for so eloquently capturing what it is to be in this world with its odd way of leading us to grace through hardships.

    Much love,
    Pamela

  10. Gardener says:

    Judging and comparing takes negative energy and time.
    Stop. Use that time and energy in a positive way.
    See all the beauty and blessings in your life

    Be joyous now. You are not being disloyal to your pain.

  11. Barbara H. says:

    Wonderful post. Wonderful comments. And what a beautiful, beautiful picture accompanying it. I assume it is a photograph but it looks like a painting. It’s the perfect companion to your words.

  12. Today I was wondering what the hell I am going to do with my life now that my children don’t need me day to day. Having a horrible conversation with my college freshman daughter, who is 2000 miles away at an expensive private school that she desperately wanted to go to and is hating the cold, rainy weather after growing up in Florida. Hate to say “I told you so”, which I am so proud of myself, I didn’t say!

    I am going to be living and loving the moment! Tomorrow morning I am going to yoga. Thanks for your insight.

  13. Hi Katrina, This makes me think of Hermes, the Trickster, and mythic god of luck (and travel, and artisans). We tend to find ourselves a bit adrift in the realm of fortunately/unfortunately when this archetype is ascendent (note how “fortune” relates to luck/fortuna) we are betwixt and between… and potential transformation (albeit often painful) may be, yet again, in process. All Good Wishes in the dark and the light

  14. Well said, Katrina!

    Another picture book similar to Remy Charlip’s: That’s Good, That’s Bad by Margery Cuyler

    Unfortunately, fully living in the present takes daily discipline. Fortunately, we can always start right now.

  15. unfortunately, i don’t express myself as well as you do. fortunately, i’m getting better.

  16. Sharon Sisle Anderson says:

    Such simple words you use to elicit some very deep thinking. Your post came at such a perfect time for me. I am taking your words to heart. Thank you.

  17. So often the “Unfortunatelys” turn out to be “thank goodnesses” if we give them enough time and are able to see them in retrospect.

  18. Thank you as always! What a remarkable thought and so against our society… to just relax and enjoy the moment. Not to store it up for another day. I love that you remind me that the moment doesn’t have to be perfect, that my life does not have to be perfect, that I do not have to be perfect to be happy to enjoy. Thank you dear friend!

  19. And so we say “Amen.” A meditation retreat for pianists, amen.

  20. Katrina,
    I’ve been thinking about that book, Fortunately, so much ever since my husband lost his job. It started out to be a very unfortunate situation and then things changed, and it looked like actually a positive outcome. And then things changed again and I was sure it was “unfortunate,” and on and on. I’m learning not to hold too fast to anything.
    Thank you,
    Rachel

  21. Thank you! Your words felt as if they were meant specifically for me today. I was feeling sort of low … because things weren’t rolling out as I’d like… but your words were very reassuring to me. Thank you for sharing your own thoughts, feelings and insights!

  22. Katrina,

    I’m passing this post to a very close friend. We were just having this conversation. I was talking about not liking the Facebook idea of thumbs up and thumbs down about every single thing that crosses our path.

    Even in my interior design business, I try to move clients away from the “I like, I don’t like this about my home” or the idea of “unfortunately I don’t have enough space” Sometimes it’s about less is more, to clear literal space, to not make purchases, but to clean out and look around for what we already have. “Fortunately, if we just move a few things around, space is found”.

    Thank you, Katrina, for helping us see things in a new light.
    Sandy

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