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I want to live deliberately

A small art gallery near Lake Galway in Ireland holds an exhibition with local art.
A poet of no small renown drops by to view it. As he finishes his perusing, a local farmer arrives. Once a year, the farmer visits the gallery. He lives on the shores of Loch Corrib. The gallery owner introduces the men.
The poet gladly revisits the exhibition with the farmer, pointing out intricacies and hidden symbolism. The farmer listens carefully.
When finished, the farmer says, “Thank you. That was interesting, and you showed me things I would have never noticed. You have a wonderful eye. It is a great gift. I envy your gift, I don’t have that gift myself. But I do have Teannalach.”
“What is Teannalach?” The poet asks.
“I live beside the lake,” the farmer tells him. “And you always hear the ripple of the waters and the sound of wind on the water; everyone hears. However, on certain summer days when the lake is absolutely still and everything is silent, I can hear how the elements and the surface of the lake make magic music together.”
A week or so later, the farmer’s neighbor comes in the gallery. The owner asks about the word Teannalach. “Oh yes, they have that world up there. I’ve never seen it written down, so it’s hard to say what it means. I suppose it means awareness, but in truth it is about seven layers deeper.”

Whenever I lecture about gardens, 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 that 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.

I don’t deny that I can turn this into 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 well being from having a clean desk.)
There are two sides of this coin. One, we are susceptible to the cultural hook that what we are paid for, is who we are. And we park our identity there. “So… what do you do?”
Two, we sell our passion short. And we never ask (or want to be asked), “So, what fuels you? What makes you glad to be alive?”

Some movies I need to watch over and over. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of them. A group of disparate British retirees are lured by an invitation to “outsource” themselves for a stay at the newly opened Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India.
Of course, not everything works out quite as expected.
And yet, how each “sees,” determines the wealth of their experience. “India, like life,” writes Evelyn, “is about what you bring to it.”
Jean Ainslie brings anger, sprinkled with bitterness. Their life savings gone, their marriage lifeless, and her spirit drained.
“I want to stay in another hotel, the one in the brochure,” she shouts at Sonny (the hotel’s ebullient manager).
Why is it that every part of life that is not in the brochure, feels like an interruption and a threat?
In one encounter, she asks Graham, “How can you bear this country? What do you see that I don’t?”
With a bemused smile, he answers, “The light, colors, the smiles. It teaches me something. Where people see life as a privilege and not as a right.” 

“I went to the woods,” Henry David Thoreau writes, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Woods. Well, of course. It is heaven in the woodland. On my island, where our 100 year old firs and hemlock and cedars are the columns and spires of our garden cathedral.
No, this is not easy in a world where all news is called breaking, a synonym for relentless. As in, there is no escape. So, it doesn’t take much to derails us. Negativity. Discontent. Feeling at the mercy of. It is no wonder we live reactive.
Even so, “give us the list,” we beseech. Which makes this tricky, because living deliberately is not a program or strategy or proper prayer added to our life. (With will power and requisite skills required to implement.)
I like Scott Russell Sanders’ take, For the enlightened few, the world is always lit.”
In other words, we begin by letting go. Of all that inures and numbs and quashes (of all that is corrosive to our spirit) in order to embrace what is wonderfully alive inside. In order to celebrate what is already there.
In Plato’s words, “What is honored will be cultivated.”

Today, I choose to live deliberately. I choose sufficiency, not scarcity.
Today is a good day to learn and to grow. To risk, to fall down and to get up and try again.
To right a wrong. To forgive (beginning with my self).
To embrace. To offer a hand, or a kind word. Or both.
To hope. To delight. To wonder.
To wander. To sit still. To laugh out loud.
To question. To dance. To drink that bottle of wine (from the cellar saved for a special occasion).
To follow passion. To be open to Teannalach.
To savor. To love.  To lose. To die.

It’s been a good week. If you don’t count the weather. Rain. And then more rain. Ahhh, Seattle.
I spent a good day with Principals of Catholic schools in Vancouver, BC, focusing on what we honor and celebrate.
Last night, the Burns Supper here on Vashon (to raise a glass and toast Robbie Burns). It’s a night for kilts and tartans and bagpipes and a wee dram (or two). I delivered the toast to the lassies. In part I said, “In a world filled with bluster, it is incumbent on us (men) to create places where the lassies in our lives know they are seen, heard, honored and safe from disrespect… In today’s political climate, words have been shortchanged, denigrated to weapons. And we have lost the healing power of words. So yes, a toast is merely words. But words are a powerful thing. So a toast is not just a gesture. Words create the bridges between us. Without them we would be lost islands. Affection, recognition and understanding and reconciliation travel across these fragile bridges and enable us to discover and re-discover one other, and awaken intimacy and great care… In a culture with a morass of second hand chatter and mind numbing vitriol, we can be places of grace for one another. We are not on this journey alone.”

Quote for your week…
If we want to be happy at all, I think, we have to acknowledge that the circumstances, which encourage us in our love of this existence, are essential. We are part of what is sacred. That is our main defense against craziness, our solace, the source of our best politics, and our only chance at paradise.  William Kittredge

Note: Teannalach story adapted from John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty.
Photo thanks… Thank you SM Reader Beth Tiller…


As timely as a river
God’s timeless life passes
Into this world. It passes
Through bodies, giving life,
And past them, giving death.
The secret fish leaps up
Into the light and is
Again darkened. The sun
Comes from the dark, it lights
The always passing river,
Shines on the great-branched tree,
And goes. Longing and dark,
We are completely filled
With breath of love, in us
Forever incomplete.
Wendell Berry

Holy One, you are the Bread of Life,
you are the Cup of Healing for all the nations.
You delight our senses with smell and touch,
with sight and sound,
with taste and pleasure.
As we have gathered, like wheat from the hills
to become your Body,
fill us with your Holy Spirit,
and make us drunk with your presence.
Bring us to your banquet table,
that we may feed the world
in praise and prayer.




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