Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Racing toward and embracing stillness

Photo courtesy of Don DeBold/Flickr

I took the dog and the baby for a walk the other day. The sun was out and the wind not as bitter as it had been earlier in the week. 

Annie is my main conversation partner during the day- and while she can be quite chatty, there are points during the day where I crave more conversation than screeches, squeals and grunts. When I'm walking, I often remedy this by listening to a podcast- This American Life, Serial, RadioLab, TED Radio Hour- that sort of thing. That day I found an OnBeing interview with journalist and writer Pico Iyer on "The Urgency of Slowing Down," the title of which kind of makes me laugh because I feel as if my hours with Annie crawl by with not much done. But because we're in the thick of parenthood- two elementary-aged kids and an infant- time hasn't actually ebbed. The quiet hours of a school day might creep along, but the days and the weeks and the months sprint by. Life feels both urgent and slow. 

The conversation offered reminders about the power of stillness and quiet and reflection. 

Affirmation that spiritual growth is not only possible, but inevitable doing the rote work of caring for a newborn. Annie, like Lily and Jovie before her, demands I'm present. That I'm in each moment with her. She's fussiest when I'm distracted by my phone or books or tidying this and that. Happiest when our eyes are locked, acknowledging the candle glow of each other's souls. 

On a day when she seems bored with me, annoyed by the walls of our house, itchy in her skin, I tuck her into her carrier and we head outside. She quiets right away when we leave the mechanical din of the house behind for the outdoors. Even if the sounds outside our front door aren't as pastoral as I'd hope. There's always an airplane taking off. Always a chainsaw or a siren in the distance. Always a dog barking (let's be honest, often it's my own dog). It's imperfect. 

But it's where we are, so it's also where we must be. 

To get past the fact that I'm not hiking on a barely trodden trail in some untouched wilderness, I try to name as many sounds as I can. The plane and the chainsaw and the dog, of course, but also the chattering birds, the crackling leaves, the jangle of the dog's collar, my footsteps, the wind and the sound of our breathing. These sounds layered together create its own symphony and helps me stay present.

Which is the whole point of spiritual retreat anyway.

In the interview, Iyer shares about the regular visits he's made to a Benedictine hermitage- though he's neither Catholic nor a hermit– over the past 24 years. He says his time there steadies him when the world feels so tumultuous.  

“The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop, but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion of the world,” he writes.

God I love this idea. 

Lately, I've felt as if I do so little. I mean, aside from the small matter of rearing small humans. I've jettisoned so many of the things I used to do with such fury and devotion- freelancing, subbing, yoga, writing. For years I was so busy. 

And now ... now it's just so different. My brain has retreated in a way. I feel a bit hermit like. Like the person I thought I was has dissolved into someone else. And I'm just too tired to parse who that new someone is. And maybe that's for the best right now. I'm still only getting sleep in two or three hour stretches (Yes, I know. It's shocking. Shouldn't Annie be sleeping through the night by now? Ha! tell her that. And no, I don't want to discuss sleep-training methods. Unless, you're offering a room at the Marriott while you move in to coach my kid through crying it out. We're muddling through thankyouverymuch. One day I'll sleep again.) 

The point is, I'm just going to go ahead and live the days that are in front of me the way they are. I'll do this and trust that life will shift as it needs to, when it needs to. 

Trusting this is a challenge. Because looming in front of me is having to return to work in some way or fashion- whether it's freelancing again or finding a more traditional officey sort of job or something in between. I've been shoving the prospect of job hunting into a corner in order to preserve my sanity and the sweetness of my days with Annie. And also because it's not clear to me what my next move should be. 

My resume over the last eight or so years is ... what's the word ... eclectic. I've blogged about everything from office furniture to animal prosthetics. Interviewed social media influencers on topics ranging from travel to architecture to Big Data and managed various social media accounts for various small businesses. Created a few of WordPress sites nonprofits and friends. I also moonlighted as a farmhand and worked weddings. And then I was a substitute teacher for a little bit. There's no real career path here. And I guess that wasn't really the point- I pitched in to help ends meet. I need to do that again and I just feel as if I'm back at square one. Almost 37 and still no idea what I should be doing with my life. 

I'm trying not to let panic set in. 

I keep recalling this conversation I had back in college. I was working at an airport bookstore and my 12th grade government teacher stopped in on his way to... somewhere. We got to talking and he told me he had no idea wha the wanted to do with his life. Mr. Prowell will never realize what a gift this was to me- this anxious 20-something kid who couldn't quite picture the rest of her life. I'd always just assumed all adults had their shit figured out. The jobs they were doing were the jobs they were destined to do. Not so apparently. As it turns out, Mr. Prowell did not necessarily feel it was his destiny to teach AP Government. And looking back on how obnoxious I was in his class, I can't say I blame him. My one and only tattoo is this tiny speck of graphite on my wrist. I got it when I overreacted to some shenanigans of the kid in front of me and flailed my arms backward into my friend's pencil. I also remembered us singing Home Simpson's "Mr. Plow" song to him at various times (but instead of Mr. Plow, we sang Mr. Prowell... so clever.) 

Is it any wonder he wanted to pursue other ventures? 

Is it too much to ask that I find something that is satisfying, offers a reasonable work-life balance and is allows me to justify the time away from my kids in a way that feels comfortable to me? (I feel the need to note here, as I have before, that this is not at all in the slightest a commentary on working moms versus stay-at-home moms versus the moms in between and who does it better or worse and who loves their children more or less and who wins the prize for the most amazing mother/woman/human person in the universe. In my book you're all Wonder Woman fighting through the grind in a world that insists you do all the things and insists you can have it all without actually doing much at all to accommodate any of it. Be true to your heart and love your sisters in arms is all I'm saying. End rant). 

Where were we? 

Unreasonable expectations?

See, this is why I chase stillness. Because the alternative is facing the cacophony of bullshit in my brain. And really, I just want to cuddle Annie and be the one to pick up my kids at the end of their school day.

Lily told me I should open a restaurant in our back yard. This actually made me laugh out loud because Lily, a notoriously choosy eater, dislikes most of my cooking unless it features pasta and cheese in some sort of combination. She told me she'd help cook the food, but she wouldn't eat it.

I told her it was a fine idea, except I was pretty sure we'd be skirting some HOA rules in order to open the Back Yard Cafe (her name suggestion). I mean, if I'm not even allowed to keep a cow in the yard, I'm pretty sure an eatery is off the table. 

Right now I'm gathering stillness in a way. Which seems odd to write in the thick of newborndom, but there you have it. I'm gathering the stillness that I'll bring down from the mountain when it's time. And that seems just as important as all the other doing that I've neglected. I won't live in this bubble forever. But it's where I am for now.

Gathering stillness. And praying daily that whatever comes next will be what's best for my family. 

On that walk the other day, the interview I was listening to cut off abruptly. I looked at my phone to turn it back on. 

"Connection lost," it said. 

I put the phone in my coat pocket and laughed at the irony. 

Looking ahead, I watched as a heron landed in the creek. I listened to the geese honking to each other on the pond. I felt the sun on my face and smelled the warm, sweet smell of leaves decaying. 

Connection lost? Hardly.

This is the perfect present. 

When life speeds up again, as it inevitably will, I know I'll have this calm to bring into the commotion.