how we spend our days

sunriseAnnie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” a line that resonated deeply with me when I first read it years ago.

“How We Spend Our Days” is also the name of a wonderfully intimate monthly series in which writers (including some of my favorites) share glimpses of the private lives and processes behind the words we share with the world.

Today, I’m honored to be the guest writer over at Catching Days.

Please do come visit, read my essay, and say hello over at Cynthia Newberry Martin’s lovely site.  Click here.

when the going gets tough

tough goingWhen the going gets tough may I resist my first impulse to wade in, fix, explain, resolve, and restore. May I sit down instead.

When the going gets tough may I be quiet. May I steep for a while in stillness.

When the going gets tough may I have faith that things are unfolding as they are meant to. May I remember that my life is what it is, not what I ask for. May I find the strength to bear it, the grace to accept it, the faith to embrace it.

When the going gets tough may I practice with what I’m given, rather than wish for something else. When the going gets tough may I assume nothing. May I not take it personally. May I opt for trust over doubt, compassion over suspicion, vulnerability over vengeance.

When the going gets tough may I open my heart before I open my mouth. [continue…]

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…]