Hard lessons

I’m probably not the only person who abandons her good habits when life speeds up, or who fails to practice when practice is the only thing that might actually save me from myself. My guess is that there are others like me, who get so frazzled and overwhelmed and caught up in the stresses of events and obligations and misunderstandings that we don’t even see the plain truth staring us in the face: there is another way. A small shift in perception, a different attitude, a quieter approach.

And yet, knowing I’m not alone, and that failure is part of being human, doesn’t make it easier to confront my shortcomings.

Writing this morning as the sky lightens, waiting quietly for words to come rather than rushing and grasping to get something down on paper, I realize that what I’m really waiting for here is a glimpse of the thread that might lead me back to me, or at least back to the person I still aspire to be: reflective, aware, moving slowly and attentively in the world rather than racing through it, all sharp elbows and jangled nerves and oblivious hustle.

The dawn sky is peach and turquoise behind the thinning canopy of golden leaves beyond my bedroom window. The clock ticks steadily on the nightstand. Gracie sighs and stretches and then goes back to sleep on the floor. My husband, away on a business trip, isn’t here to see how quickly in his absence the other side of our bed becomes strewn with notebooks and pens, a wicker basket full of paperwork, a pile of books and pillows and half-done projects.

The day ahead is already pressing in – the housework I’ve postponed, emails that are unanswered, a daunting list of book tasks and family tasks and outdoor tasks needing attention. A long drive to reconnect with a cherished college friend after a gap of nearly twenty years. It’s tempting to leap out of bed and get started, to go tearing into the day, as if by moving faster I might actually come out ahead, might win the big race to some invisible, constantly shifting finish line. Perform well enough, and I just might grasp the brass ring, might magically transform this scattered, overcommitted life I’ve created into the artful, more deliberate, simpler life I keep straining to achieve.

But looking back over the last week or so — a week of moving ever faster only to feel myself slipping more and more out of control — I do at least know this: the best thing I can do, both for myself and for those I love, is to remain here propped amongst the bed pillows for a while longer. To start the day in stillness, to sit, to breathe, and to patiently allow my heart its own slow refueling.

Gratitude for things just as they are seeps in slowly. It takes some patience to refill a soul, patience and a certain faith, too. Faith that the blessing I hunger for is already mine. I need only breathe in to receive it, exhale to offer it forth. Faith that grace isn’t a prize to be earned or claimed but rather the gift of being alive, right here and right now, in this moment, no matter how many challenges await. Faith that who I am – this deeply flawed and wanting human self – is enough. Faith that life as it is – messy and muddled and fleeting — is life just as it is meant to be. Faith that paying attention is my true spiritual practice; kindness, my real work; and love the most creative and demanding path of all.

Practice, I know now, doesn’t make perfect. The harsh, inescapable truth is that to live in this world is to both harm and heal. So is it really any wonder that we bring the greatest pain to those we care about the most? This week, I deeply hurt a friend. The injury I caused was unintentional, but no less damaging for that. Tending to these wounds, flinching at the raw and tender places in a relationship that means the world to me, I wonder how to make amends. There’s nothing to be gained by dissecting the errors of my ways all over again. That list is long, and nothing special. And, as poet Mary Oliver reminds, “You want to cry aloud for your mistakes. But to tell the truth the world doesn’t need any more of that sound.”

What can I do but this: Say “I’m sorry.” Bow low and accept forgiveness as its offered, in whatever form it takes. Set down the heavy, awkward burden of shame and take up in its place the worthy work of paying closer attention. Be humbled before all that I don’t know. And then move mindfully forward, taking even greater care. Commit all over again to love, to kindness, to the inestimable gifts of friendship, to practice.

What have I learned? Only to keep trying. And to be grateful for every second chance, every opportunity to become more skillful in these demanding arts of living and accepting and loving.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Just pre-ordered Magical Journey and looking forward to starting the new year with it. Your post today really struck a chord with me. It is true that, while there is comfort in knowing we are not alone in our failings, it is still difficult to confront our own shortcomings. I just love reading your posts. The way you have of expressing a feeling, an experience, it’s heartbreaking. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable.

  2. I’ve been doing a lot of “I’m sorry” lately. Puberty has hit our house with a vengeance and it’s not pretty. Eruptions. On both sides. Thank you for your words today.

  3. Beautiful, honest and wise. We start over, and over, and over. Maybe that’s just what life is… one fresh step of starting over after the other.

    Sending you peace!

  4. I love your writing: “… all sharp elbows and jangled nerves and oblivious hustle.” and “Faith that paying attention is my true spiritual practice; kindness, my real work; and love the most creative and demanding path of all.”
    I often remind myself that the practice of lovingkindness is a practice we also do in the mirror. If we are going to love and forgive others, we must practice this on ourselves first. Your writing inspires! Thanks.

  5. I listened to “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” on audio book – it was a life changing experience. It was during one of the long road trips I took last winter to watch my son’s squash matches at Dartmouth. I was blown away by how authentic your voice was, and continues to be. You have so courageously shared your life, and that of your family, with others. Please know that there are people everywhere, including me, who are now living the gift of an ordinary day. My sincerest thanks.

  6. There are no such things as coincedences! Opened your musings on “Hard Lessons” at a time when I have felt injured by a friend. And the real lesson for me, is to forgive and move forward, “to commit all over again to love, to kindness.” Truly words to live by. Thank you Katrina for your inspiration.

  7. Thank you…i too am searching and want simplicity….and maybe in this madness of life it really is just right here if I slow down to look….again thank you your words are just what I needed this evening

  8. Katrina, thanks for this ever-timely reminder that starting over is a never-ending endeavor, and also to Kathy who posted about the need to forgive ourselves first. Wise words and beautifully stated.

  9. “Faith that paying attention is my true spiritual practice.” Mine too, I suspect, I believe. Thank you for being such a wise teacher, for holding a light on such a dark path, for helping me as I stumble my way along. Thank you. xo

  10. Your writing always moves me. This one is stunningly brilliant, raw, real and important.
    I will read it again and again. Learn. Forgive. Breathe. Be grateful. Stumble. Again and again.

    And, through all of it, I will know you are there, too. Trying.

  11. Well said, you rock!

  12. “Faith that paying attention is my true spiritual practice; kindness, my real work; and love the most creative and demanding path of all.”

    Holding those words throughout this week. I’ve let go of my practice recently and want to recommit. Thank you for this post.

  13. Boy did I need to hear this today. Thank you.

  14. I’ve been taking an unintended hiatus from the online world for the past month, and I guess you could say I’ve been off “practicing paying attention.” I hadn’t thought of it that way until I read your words here today, but it makes sense. I am always in awe of how you can take the simplest, most complex thoughts — about gratitude, peace, faith, kindness — and make it “real” for me.

  15. your post is exactly what I needed to read/hear. Perfect timing, God is amazing at putting words in our life right at the perfect moment. I struggle to, I don’t know why I abandon my good habits, it only makes my life harder. Will I finally learn? I know I will fail again, I know me :) but I also know I can try again and try to do better. Thank you!

  16. Katrina, this was a beautiful entry and one that really resonated with me. I too have had times in my life where I disappointed myself greatly through my words or actions (or lack thereof). I think this is something everyone can relate to on some level and one of the hardest lessons is knowing how to let go of the shame and guilt and move forward – especially when the person you offended has deemed you unworthy of forgiveness.

    There is a Yoga Journal article all about this at http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2413. Check it out. You might find some comfort and wisdom there that can help you!

    xo
    Rachel

  17. As always, Katrina, I find deep comfort and resonance in your words. Thank you for giving voice to my feelings.

  18. That was exactly what I needed to read and exactly the right time..

    Thank-you.

    Vanessa

  19. I love this blog post and I really needed to read these words today. Thank you

  20. Wow!! Did I need this wonderful story today it let me know that I’m not an awful person I’m just human. Thank you are the only words right now.

  21. Wonderful message that speaks to me and of me in these challenging times and dealing with issues within myself, my family and my career. With sincere gratitude, Katrina.

  22. Delicious post, once again. Thank you for sharing!

  23. Katrina,

    These words resonated with me on many different levels, I, too, hurt a friend by some careless words. I’ve been searching for different ways to make amends. Thank you for sharing your story. You remind us that we all sometimes flounder.

  24. Dear Katrina

    Thank you for your imperfections and helping us remember that nobody is immune to them! Much love.

  25. Maija Beattie says:

    “It takes patience to refill a soul . . .” This whole paragraph is exactly where I find myself right now. I’ll just turn that one over and over for a while. Thank you.

  26. My dear Katrina,

    Love your books and can’t wait to read your latest. Love to hear about your sons’ growing up years and their many accomplishments and would love hearing more about them – what Henry is doing now after his summer at Cape Cod. Also what interests Jack is pursuing.

    Came across a book titled Forgiveness (Finding Peace Through Letting Go) by Adam Hamilton. This was the topic you covered in your most recent blog. I have not read it but will look for it soon. God bless you and your family.

  27. I am halfway through Ordinary Day and came to your site to send some friends the link. My first reaction upon seeing your new book and its title was, “She wrote *another* book? Already? How does this woman do it? Not only cannot I not find the time to write what I want, but I can’t even read fast enough to keep up!” Some contentment, huh?!

    So I then very much appreciated this post for its honesty and humility. Thank you for sharing another piece of your process and for reminding us that there is no magical finish line of perfection but rather many paths to explore that each have their own beauty and lessons to teach, no matter where exactly they lead.

  28. It hurts me too. These days it seems I can accomplish little but the diligence of taking my time. Nothing to say, and nothing to gain. Your friend will forgive, because friends do.

  29. Katrina, I hope you realize that for many of us our time spent reading your posts is our slowing down time. It’s our time to look inward, to take stock, to just be, to feel and to appreciate. You guide us with your words, your uncanny ability to put a voice to our feelings and to validate them. My life is a constant whirlwind of never catching up, never accomplishing all I want to, always wanting more from myself. When I slow down, breathe deeplynandnallow myself to be satisfied and even content it’s when I give myself the gift of time spent with your words. I have a silly happy grin right now just from allowing myself time to go there and feel more then ok with exactly who I am right now, flaws and all… I sure hope you do too.

  30. I unintentionally hurt a friend badly today. It may end up as an irrevocable injury; I will pray that it does not. And while I was pondering all of the madness that happens in our busy lives I remembered this post. Thanks to the google string of “katrina kenison hurting a friend forgiveness” I was able to find this post again and re-read it.

    Thank you, for a second look at this, and as always for your insight.

    Journey safely on your book tour.

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