the gift of presence

October mapleLast week I drove through lashing winds and wild rains to a small town in Connecticut, to give a talk to a group of library friends. Afterward, a woman from the audience approached me as I stepped between the podium and the book table. It was clear she had a question, one she preferred not to share with the whole crowd.

We chatted for just a few minutes, barely long enough for her to articulate her thoughts about being lost on the path of midlife, or for me to respond in any way that might be helpful. It was a conversation that really called for a walk, a cup of tea, time — not the rushed reassurance I tried to offer her while people were lining up to buy books.

But I’ve been thinking about her over the last few days, as I’ve done the mundane tasks of keeping my own life on track: watering the house plants, vacuuming, walking the dog, doing the laundry, paying bills and answering emails, raking leaves, planning dinner and shopping for groceries. Nothing terribly exciting or important, just the ordinary work of being me.

The woman’s children are grown and she’s recently retired from a full-time career that satisfied her for years. She’s neither young nor old, her health is good, her life is good. Her days, she told me, are busy still, taken up with family, volunteer work, seeing friends, and caring for others. She is making a difference in her world, grateful her new freedom means she’s able to be there for those who need her.

And yet, she said, there’s something missing. She’s not quite certain that what she’s doing is “enough.” There’s a nagging guilt, a sense of inadequacy, a suspicion that she’s not being productive enough or successful enough or impressive enough.

“I know that feeling,” I said to her. “I have it, too.” [continue...]

Paradise in Plain Sight (and a give-away)

82522Come see the garden,” my new online friend said to me, years ago. We had never met, barely knew each other through the ether, and yet here she was, inviting me to her sanctuary.

I was a New Hampshire housewife contemplating a field of granite rocks beyond my kitchen window. She was a west coast Zen priest, the rightful inheritor of a venerable Japanese garden tucked away in a suburb of LA.

What did we have in common? Perhaps it was something as simple as the belief that an ordinary life is a gift to be reckoned with — that folding socks and driving the carpool and washing supper dishes are opportunities for growth and grace. And we also shared this: a desire to fully inhabit the present moment by learning to pay attention to the ground beneath our own two feet.

It doesn’t sound like much — being quiet, noticing where you are, appreciating what you see, realizing that you already possess what you’ve been looking for because you already are everything you seek.  Of course, this kind of seeing, this kind of unvarnished intimacy with one’s self, is also the task of a lifetime. Hard work. Simple. Not simple. Endless. Worth it.

So, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise that we first “met” because our books crossed each other’s doorsteps. [continue...]

present moment — and a mother’s day give-away

snowI’m still waiting for the last snow bank to melt outside the back door.  My guess is it’ll linger, grainy and gray, for another week or so.

I suppose I could get out there today and attack winter’s last frozen carapace with a shovel. If I got that mound of snow and ice all broken up and spread out on the flattened, spongy lawn, it would probably disappear faster.

Instead, I look at winter’s grimy remains and see an invitation to pay attention. The lingering, slowly dwindling snow bank reminds me once again: nothing lasts.  Even the harsh, seemingly endless winter I complained about and struggled against for months is finally on its way out, its last vestiges vanishing by the moment.

On this windy, chilly spring day, it’s too early to do much of anything productive outside.  And so, I walk around and survey the wreckage: the old front gate, broken off at the hinge, the fallen tree limbs, the cache of dead leaves in the window wells, the skeletal remains of the Christmas tree on the patio, the dead hydrangea blooms I never got around to pruning in the fall.   [continue...]

Tender

snow angelAs I type these words, the world beyond my window is blanketed by snow.  There is silence in the house, save for the hum of the refrigerator, the whisper of warm air rising from the grates in the floor.  I’ve laid in groceries, mopped the salt and grit from the entryway, put tulips in a vase on the table.  The shoveling and snow-clearing can wait. There is no place to go, nothing to do but chop and roast some vegetables later for dinner.  Time slows. Edges soften. I feel a weight in my heart slowly begin to lift, my breath settle back into a deeper rhythm, my own sense of myself returning.

For a week I’ve been struggling with some old, familiar demons.  The fear of not being enough.  The need to protect my tenderest, most vulnerable feelings from the harsh light of day.  Self-doubt.  Regret for things said and unsaid in a relationship I cherish.  The wish that I could feel less, hurt less, and slough off more.   A piercing disappointment that try as I might to shape my life, there is and will always be so much that’s beyond my control or understanding.  The realization that I’m not quite as good at non-attachment as I like to think I am.

“The root of all suffering,” the Buddhists say, “is the desire for things to be different than they are.”

So simple.  So true.  But knowing it is so doesn’t make the wanting and the wishing go away.  [continue...]

How to savor (another) freezing February morning

IMG_3754“If your daily life seems of no account, don’t blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its treasures.”  ~ Rilke 

O
pen your eyes in darkness.

Listen to the heat kick on.

Snuggle more deeply into flannel sheets.

Say a prayer of thanks for the roof over your head, your warm house, the hot shower that awaits.

Turn your gaze toward the feathery frost on the window pane.

Allow moonlight to wash away sleep.

Watch stars wink out, the sky lighten by degrees, a scrim of rose etch itself across the mountain.

Rise with the sun. [continue...]