Perusing the shelves of one of my favorite independent bookstores some time back, I found a title that gave me pause. “What if I wake up and discover I’m living the wrong life?” (Mercy. This is a good way to throw a monkey wrench into any fine weekend. I mean, should I cancel dinner reservations?)
Sensing the author could be right, this led to an uncomfortable scene in the bookstore, with me on the floor, being consoled by a well meaning store clerk, who may or may not be living the right life, which seemed beyond my capacity to discern, although she was very helpful nonetheless, patting me on the head saying, “There, there,” and gave me the name of a nearby pub which specialized in soothing middle-aged angst.
What if I’m living the wrong life? Sadly, it is a question we all entertain. No doubt because it saturates the ether of our culture. “Whatever your life, something must be missing,” we are reminded. Daily. (And in world where more is never enough, there is a parade of lives on social media that we are prompted to envy.) But when we do this—you know, acquiesce and give in to a need to prove and obsess—we give up our best self, this self.
This wrong life conundrum seems to be a riddle for someone with way too much time on his or her hands, although the question gnawed at me over the weekend. Which brings me to today, which started as I begin most every day when I’m home on the island: Made a pot of coffee. Journaled for a half hour. Walked the garden as my morning invocation, periodically checking for raccoon damage. I intended to write about what the “right life” looks like, but was preoccupied for a good deal of time by the way the morning dew sits in the lime-green chalices formed of new lupine foliage. From the recent rain, the lawn is Irish green and the tree peony flower buds lean (or is it bow? In deference? Or is it reverence?) from the heaviness of the rain.
I am, truly, mesmerized.
And gratefully, I reenter my life. This life.
Dewitt Jones tells a story about visiting Marion Campbell, considered the finest weaver in all of Scotland. She lived in the Outer Hebrides. Jones visited to photograph Marion for The National Geographic. When she answered the door, she seemed surprised (no wonder considering that the Hebrides are a remote island chain, the whole string of 65 islands with fewer than 27,000 inhabitants. I expect she didn’t see a stranger very often.) Marion told Dewitt, “I’m sorry, but now I am taking care of my brother who is sick and near death.” Dewitt felt an understandable embarrassment.
“No wait,” she told him, “give me an hour. I’ll join you then.”
After the hour, he found her at the loom. She talked about her creations, and stories about scraping lichen from rocks for dye. Dewitt took a few photos. Still nervous that he had interrupted Marion, he started to leave. “Oh no,” she told him. She escorted him into her dining room where she had put out biscuits and tea. Dewitt wondered if he was in the presence of a great sage, and waited for pearls of wisdom. “What do you think about when you weave?” he asked.
“I wonder if I’ll run out of thread,” she answered.
She must have seen the puzzlement on his face, and added, “When I weave, I weave.”
There it is.
When I read, I read.
When I celebrate, I celebrate.
When I pay attention, I pay attention.
It seems that the nagging question, “What if this is the wrong life?” is not that important after all.
Have I done bone-headed things with my life? To be sure.
Have I miscalculated and misused talent or opportunity? Assuredly.
Have I wrestled with depression and the weight of life gone awry? Yes, I have.
Does it benefit me to wish that I were elsewhere and otherwise? I don’t think so.
What I know for certain is that starting down that path of determining “right or wrong” life, assures the fact that we will avoid (and definitely miss) this life.
So yes. I would say we are obsessed with asking the wrong question.
It’s not about the stuff we add to our life. It’s not about acing the test asking, whether we are live the “right or wrong life.” It is about the freedom to be awake and invested, in this life, in this moment; the very one I am living today.
As Dewitt Jones puts it, “To not only be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world.”
I love this. Not only is this the life to live…
In doing so, you bring your whole heart.
In doing so, you make a difference.
So… “Let us not darken the joy of resurrection,” Thomas Merton reminds us, “by remaining in captivity and darkness, but let us live as free men and women who have been called out of the darkness and into the light.”
That light may be obscured by tragedy and stress but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there and cannot spill to the world around us. Yes. In this life.
At my age, it’s common to be asked about retirement (well, to be honest, first you’re asked about aches and pains), and whether or not I can afford to grow old. “What have you invested in,” I am asked.
Granted, my portfolio may be anemic, but I’ll save my worry for later. I have other investments in mind.
Today, I want to invest in being present and whole hearted.
Today, I want to invest in being unafraid.
Today, I want to invest in bringing the better angels of this self to a world that needs people who care about making it a better place.
More than ever, I value being around people who live well in their own skin. Because they live unafraid.
And here’s the wonderful irony. Being fully present allows me to be present for others around me. You know, as in connected. As in face to face, eye to eye, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder. Why? Because I have nothing to prove, no one to impress and no need to manipulate or denigrate anyone.
My friend Jinks taught me the treasurable Hebrew word Mashpia, derived from the word shepha, which means, “to overflow” or “to pour abundantly.” So… literally a channel or conduit. (In Kabbalistic terminology, shepha refers to one who channels Divine radiant energy.) The good news is that this doesn’t happen when I get to my “real life.” It happens now, with this life. When we embrace the reality that the dance, the abundance, the light, the tenderness, the empathy, the compassion, the wholeheartedness is already within us.
It is Spring, and I’m in garden design mode, helping create three gardens this month. It’s not about mimicking glossy magazine photos. Although the client will ask, “Can you do this?” “Yes,” I tell them, “but then it won’t be your garden.” So, let’s find your garden and learn to let it grow.
Many of you are in the Soul Gardening eCourse that begins today. I am grateful. You see, the garden saved me. Literally. Because it invited me to sanctify the ordinary. I am struck by the rootedness that comes with investment. Literally giving a damn. For time, energy, devotion, and care will root you. You are connected to the ordinary particularity of it all. This plot. This place. This time. This season-come hell or high water. You fight the elements and nature. You face disappointment and loss and grief. You learn to repair and hope and forgive. And you try again. And you watch. And you nurture. And you drink in the lavish repayment of investment in the form of this brief slice of heaven.
Quotes for your week…
It’s not about time. It’s not about reliability and predictability. Commitment is about depth. It’s about effort. It’s about passion. It’s about wanting to be in a certain place, and not somewhere else… commitment is best measured not by the time one is willing to give up but, more accurately, by the energy one wants to put in, by how present one is. Eugene O’Kelly
It is not too late to join us in the garden—Soul Gardening eCourse. If you miss it this time, we will repeat the course in September.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery, you return to rhythm with yourself. When you take the time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you. Moments of beauty begin to braid your days. When your mind becomes more acquainted with reverence, the light, grace and elegance of beauty find you more frequently. When the destination becomes gracious, the journey becomes an adventure of beauty. John O’Donohue
This is What Was Bequeathed Us
This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
Left to us.
No other world
But his one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.
No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.
No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.
That, and the beloved’s clear
Turn me into song; sing me awake.
May God make you holy when you feel numb and immobile,
paralyzed by fear or anxiety, anesthetized by compulsion or trauma.
May God lift you up and out of your dead places with loving arms
and breathe into you hope and life beyond measure.
Held by the hand of God, may you see your life in a new way
and with new possibilities—
with the eyes of the Creator who sees the whole of you
and loves it unconditionally.
May the God of Vitality bless you.
Maxine Shonk, OP