Be gentle with yourself
|An American traveler planned a long safari to Africa. He was a compulsive man, loaded down with maps, timetables, and agendas. Coolies had been engaged from a local tribe to carry the cumbersome load of supplies, luggage and “essential stuff.”|
On the first morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. On the second morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. On the third morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. And the American seemed pleased. On the fourth morning, the jungle tribesmen refused to move. They simply sat by a tree. The American became incensed. “This is a waste of valuable time. Can someone tell me what is going on here?”
The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”
On Friday nights I enjoy NPR, and Judy Woodruff’s conversation with political pundits Mark Shields and David Brooks. This week she asked the question, “What has kept you sane during this pandemic?”
Here’s my answer. “My best days are when I let my soul catch up.”
I’m smiling, knowing that this has never been easy for me. I don’t easily practice what I preach.
When the daughter of artist Howard Ikemoto turned seven years old, she asked her father, “What do you do at work?”
Ikemoto told her, “I work at a college, where my job is to teach people how to draw.”
She stared back at her father, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?”
Yes indeed, we do forget. Pascal’s reminder, “By means of a diversion, we can avoid our own company 24 hours a day.”
What’s at stake here (with this sacred necessity of stillness) is not another “to do” list, but an invitation to savor the pleasure of slowness, moments of stillness, even silence, letting them work their magic.
There is a part of us that protests, “This pandemic has given me a heap plenty of stillness. I’m stir crazy.” (In a profound way, the pandemic has reminded us that physical dormancy or inactivity doesn’t mean our spirit is not on overdrive.)
In her book Open Spaces, Gretel Ehrich talks about the concept that space can heal. That space–created by silence–represents sanity. Mercy, what a gift. Silence can be a fullness, rather than a void. It can allow the mind to run through its paces without any need for justification. It can let us recover–grab hold of–those parts of our self which have been so scattered, so disparate, throughout the week. To sit still is a spiritual endeavor.
To sit still is to practice Sabbath–meaning literally, to quit.
To stop. To savor uncluttered time. To be gentle with yourself. And yes, to waste time with God. The bottom line? I’m no longer chasing what I assume will fill empty spaces, in order to make me something I am not. Replenishment begins here, “I am enough.”
I talk about this with the sheep on my morning walk. I tell them, “No homily today. Just a chat.” Plus, there’s a new member, a very young lamb, who gets much of the attention.
I tell them that they are important to my emotional ballast. (They give me their deadpan stare. I hope they understood. Either way, I enjoyed using the word ballast.)
Whenever I lecture about gardens (let me re-phrase, when I used to lecture), I’m introduced as an expert. But I do not consider myself so. Years ago, I wrote Soul Gardening as a call for amateurs, those of us who enjoy the air and watch for miracles. Amateur, that is, from the French: “one who loves” or “for the love of.” Amateur is that part of us still thrilled by the miraculous sweetness of a freshly picked strawberry, or by the way the wind drifts through the wind chimes, heartfelt as a prayer, or by the reassuring strains of contented chatter coming from the finches who convene at the stream feeders. Somewhere along the way, there is something that gets under our skin. And that something begins to slowly transform us from the inside, regardless of whether we’ve ever planted a garden, or whether we know a Delphinium from a daisy. And in the stillness, gratefully, my soul catches up with my body.
‘Tis true. This insidious reminder that we are not enough has always been an opportunity to hammer guilt. As in, why haven’t I done enough? What’s the list and when is to be completed? What’s the best I can accomplish and be productive? Lord knows, it is essential to have something to show for my day. (I’m as tempted as the next guy–there is a sense of wellbeing from having a clean desk.)
Some people take exception to my talk about the power of pause, living in the present moment and the art of doing nothing. They don’t like the idea of “wasting time.” Okay. Well, here’s the difference between wasting time and just being bored. Wasting time really is intentional. You are, literally, spending time. On clouds, or lilies, or naps, or silence, or prayer, or providing a generous spirit, or coffee with friends (even if on Zoom), or listening to someone’s story, or caring for a flock of birds, or watching your cats fight it out for the best spot on the couch. Which means that you are not mortgaging your time or your life on any old distraction merely out of boredom.
When you do pause, and pay attention, there is, literally, an internal recalibration. While nothing is “added” to your life, there is a new awareness of the light that is within. Let’s call it our new internal wealth account.Here’s the deal: As long as success is measured by keeping score, we lose track of most everything that makes us human and therefore, glad to be alive: Small gestures of kindness. Acts of inclusion or community to someone left out, or someone on the fringes. Extending a hand of healing or acceptance to someone who hurts. Reveling in the gifts of the senses and being present. Resting in a moment of gratitude (say, an English Rose bloom that makes you weak in the knees). Sharing laughter, a smile, camaraderie, dancing or joy (or all of the above).
My new book arrives this week. The Gift of Enough. A journal, and an invitation to honor and give voice to all the good stuff on the inside.
Quote for your week:
Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit. e.e. cummings
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Terry all these words touched me deeply. I am going to listen for my song until…. The priest yesterday talked about the Theology of Plenty – another thing to ponder finding my Plenty, Moe
–Thank you Terry for your words to center us in this hectic world. Sitting here at our cottage in northern Wisconsin it is truly God paradise. Peace is all around us. We just need to be open to it. Kathy
–You bring me out of my head and into my heart. Thanks be to God and may you receive daily His grace and blessing. Amen! Barbara
–I have a song. A Johnny Mathis song. It was one my husband shared. Now that he is gone, I share it with the world in this stressful time, and especially with our Loving Creator. Title? Love you til the 12th of Never, and that’s a long, long time. I keep it in my heart daily. Thank you for letting me share. Kathleen
–Terry, Thank you for sharing Carrie Newcomer’s song with us/me!! It is beautiful and just what I needed to hear!! I’ve just gone through a few days of feeling as though I’d lost my song and hearing her song reminded me that my song is always present; I simply need to let my ears hear it!! Thank you again for your messages. They always give me inspiration and hope for the day. I am grateful for the blessings you bring my way!! Beth
–Thank you for your message. It’s helps start the week on a positive and inspired note. All the best from Park City. Jill
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
He has given us everything.
Every breath we draw is a gift of His love,
every moment of existence is a grace,
for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted,
is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder,
and to praise of the goodness of God.
For the grateful person knows that God is good,
not by hearsay but by experience.
And that is what makes all the difference.
As the light of dawn awakens earth’s creatures
and stirs into song the birds of the morning
so may I be brought to life this day.
Rising to see the light
to hear the wind
to smell the fragrance of what grows from the ground
to taste its fruit
and touch its textures
so may my inner senses be awakened to you
so may my senses be awakened to you, O God.
Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high,
where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost it’s way
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever widening thought and action.
In to that heaven of freedom, my father,
Let My Country Awake!
Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali