“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last Monday, with my boys on the last leg of their European adventure, my girls headed to Fort Worth to spend some time with their grandparents and left me to have a week all by my lonesome. On that first responsibility-free afternoon, I vacillated between absentmindedly staring into space with a goofy grin on my face and breaking into spontaneous jigs of joy. One WEEK? All to mySELF??? I’ll be able to get so much DONE!!! When I bumped into my friend Lisa at church on Sunday morning, I told her I was thrilled about the week ahead but also feeling the need to “be productive”. She looked me square in the eye and said “No. You don’t need to be productive. You need to just BE.” The next morning, as I drove the 7yo to her gymnastics class, I passed a digital marquee in front of one of the gajillion or so churches in our town and glanced over to see it in flashing red: “BE STILL AND KNOW”. Both messages reinforced what I felt my spirit already prodding: Be still. Be quiet. Listen. Reflect. Keep your calendar clear. Don’t DO…just BE.
After my mini-mes drove off, it took a good 36 hours for me to unwind and regulate my breathing (not even joking). By Tuesday night, I finally started feeling like I could actually relax and start my focus on BEING. Here’s how I spent the week: walking two miles every morning, reading Jim Palmer’s Divine Nobodies, watching a bit of trash TV in the middle of the afternoon (and by “trash TV”, I mean Bravo), having a masseuse run her elbows up and down my back for an hour, peeling the top layer of epidermis from my thighs (thanks to last week’s sunburn), doing some writing, having a new tire installed on the zoom-zoom (I caved to this to-do list item in regards to my personal safety), and watching a documentary titled “I AM” (fits right in with the “be” verb, eh?). I admit there was also one afternoon of intense house-cleaning. I practiced “being still” with some of my favorite local take-out, a cherry Coke, and multiple squares of dark chocolate. I spent some time “knowing” Netflix, at a louder volume than usual. I had a moms’ afternoon out to see “Mom’s Night Out” with one of my most drama-free friends, Lady Chillax (not her real name, in case you were wondering). A neighbor cut the gladioli out of her yard and left them on my porch (see above). I had an insightful, promotive-of-healing conversation with Reiki Lady about relationships and emotional attachments. My friend Lisa (the one who implored me to BE) came over and read to me from Richard Foster’s Prayer about relinquishing fear/anxiety/desires/people. (Side note: From this day forward, I will now be using the word ‘relinquish’ in place of the phrase ‘let it go’ because 1) it’s fun to say and 2) there will be no more interruptions of me making a point about letting something go by people breaking into personal renditions of Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go”.) I had a few weepy moments. I had a few dancey moments. I had a few Bluebell and DQ Blizzard moments.
As much as I love listening to my music, I didn’t have it on much. Not in the car, not at the house, not on a star, not with a mouse. I purposefully moved about my day in silence, with the occasional telling-of-a-story to myself out loud. From teacher/author Ram Dass: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” And it’s true. Y’all know it’s TRUE! After quieting myself, I heard melodious birds and distant lawnmowers and creaks in the walls around me that I don’t typically notice. But I’m guessing our friend Ram probably meant hearing to another extent. When people are away and to-do lists ignored, and a quiet, still space lies before you, STUFF COMES UP. I know. It’s profound. Almost as profound as Ram’s words. Feel free to typeset that against an image of some magnificent natural setting and share it like mad on social media.
Seriously. Stuff comes up. I think most of us know this on a deep spiritual level, and because of this knowledge, we often AVOID the practice of being still because we don’t WANT stuff coming up. We don’t WANT to hear. Because that stuff – or SHTUFF (because, like ‘relinquish’, it’s fun to say) – typically brings with it pain. That’s why we bury it, put it away, attempt to ignore it. And beneath the load of all the things we have to DO, a lot of us can keep our shtuff at bay (it’s always there though, festering). For me, it meant coming to terms with a friendship in which I have too heavily emotionally invested myself (I have a tendency to heavily emotionally invest myself in most of my closest relationships, and while I think this can make for some pretty wonderful relational interactions, it doesn’t work if 1) it’s draining energy from your day-to-day life and 2) as one of my friends tells his subordinates in their work with their clients: “Don’t care more than they do.” This is a thing with me…caring for someone to the detriment of mySELF. I realize this is a semi-touchy subject, especially if you’ve grown up repeatedly hearing the scripture “Love others as yourself”. But that’s just it. Those words imply we should love ourselves and others EQUALLY. Another blog for another day!) I also “heard” this thought: maybe I’ve experienced so much friendship loss over the past two years (friends moving cross-country, friends removing themselves from my life) to give me time and space to become friends with myself. Not that God orchestrated my friends moving away purely for my own self-enlightenment. I’m just saying…who the heck knows how these things work?? (Yet more profundity!) Maybe the losses happened and the space came and…Love flowed in to teach me something more about, well, Love.
So much of my life consists of DOING. I know how to DO. I DO every day. BEing is harder. How can one BE, exactly? I have a running to-DO list, not a to-BE list. Things to DO: teach reading lesson, buy groceries, send in camp application, pay water bill, have windshield replaced. Things to BE: hmmm…let’s see…loving, kind, forgiving, at peace. Dangit. BEING looks like it might be even harder than I initially thought. It requires much less of me to sweep a floor than to practice forgiveness. So I fill up my calendar with DOING. Which, by the way, also factors into why – when I have three minutes to myself during a normal ol’ day – I often turn to scrolling Facebook or Pinterest. Because it’s easy, and it taps down the shtuff that might bubble up. Not exactly the definition of Emerson’s suggestion to “guard well my spare moments”.
Most of the great spiritual teachers encourage the practice of solitude, where one intentionally steps away from life’s busyness to be still and tune in to one’s spirit/The Spirit. In Mark 6:31, Jesus says to his disciples: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest.” Why yes, Jesus, FABULOUS suggestion. Don’t mind if I do! The question is, how does one practice BEING alone/still/quiet if one is inundated with a lifestyle of DOING?
When I told my therapist that one week of solitude didn’t feel like enough time, he replied, “That means you’re exhausted.” Is that what that means? Because I think he might be right. The thing is…I can’t take a week off from my life as often as I might prefer. I need to figure out how to integrate moments of stillness into each day. I’m fortunate to have a husband who recognizes my need for solitude and 1) takes our kids on a week-long adventure to Grammy’s every summer and 2) encourages me to take weekends out-of-town by myself on occasion. This year my parents helped out (THANK YOU, MOM & DAD!!!). But my present reality is that there’s always someone or something that needs my attention. And it’s hard, hard, hard to eek out minutes to practice solitude during each 24-hour day, especially if you need 36 hours to unwind (logistical problem).
Hold on…gotta scribble somethin’ down…“how to be still and practice solitude in the midst of the pandemonium that is my life”. Excuse me a moment while I add that to my to-do list 😉