Stacks of books sit on surfaces of furniture in several rooms around my house. Piles of things to give away or sell sit on others. In my mind there races a seemingly endless and ever-growing list of things I need or want to do.
Will it ever end?
Each time I purge my life of material build-up, I breathe a sigh of relief, but it is temporary. I seem to find ways to refill the briefly opened spaces as quickly as they are created.
And I find myself disheartened.
From where stemmed this notion that life is made up of stuff?
I remember a saying someone dear to me used to say: Home is where your stuff is.
At the risk of sounding trite and shallow, I will be the first to admit that I feel a certain amount of comfort in being surrounded by familiarity, however material it may be. I have moved many times in my short stint on this planet, and I have often felt that the small stability that keeps me grounded was derived from familiar objects in unfamiliar surroundings.
Frustrated thus, I have turned to the comfort I find in wisdom from others who have moved through their own maëlstrom in search of simplicity and peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh (2013) assures me that I do not need to consume to feel whole. I am whole already; I have but to realize it fully in mind, body, and spirit.
Hanh (2014) encourages me to focus on my breath and the quality of my presence in order to simplify the chaotic world the pulses from within and without (p. 25).
“To be alive is the greatest of all miracles, and you can rejoice in being alive. When you breathe in this way, your breath is a celebration of life (p. 29).
Virginia Woolf (1954) reminds me that there is sanctuary in the imagination. She invites me to take refuge in worlds she has created. (Quote)
Salmon Rushdie (1991) notes that not one of us is truly in control of our destiny.
Why do I hold so steadfastly to this desire for control?
Each morning, I repeat a short meditation.
“I want for nothing more than I have. I need nothing more than I have.”
By the evening, I seem to have forgotten.
I am certain it will take me longer than the library will allow for me to make my way through my literary piles. I know that my slow pursuit stems from an inability to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time.
There is so much to do! How can I possibly sit still?
Disappointment and inner conflict ensues in who I am versus who I think I should be.
Perhaps, I should simply accept that I have a hummingbird inside of me that keeps me buzzing. I am a kinglet in winter and must keep moving; my survival depends upon it.
Or maybe Hanh is right. I should learn to sit as still as an owl, taking in my surroundings and waiting patiently for night to fall to begin moving with intentional wing beats in pursuit of a focused goal.
I took a sip of jasmine tea last evening and was instantly transported to the home of a beloved professor from my senior year of undergraduate school. He welcomed students from his courses to join him for tea and discussion in his home on Thursday afternoons.
The tea was jasmine. The dialogue (for me at least) was awkward. His home was simple and without clutter. There was room to breathe.
I would return to my own dorm room and begin tearing posters off of the walls in an attempt to create space for my own soul to breathe. Inevitably, the move toward material entropy would resume once more.
This morning, I awoke to a cold stillness in the air and a tenuous blanket of snow on the ground. A yowling cat roused me from sleep. Soon, heavy flakes began to fall in earnest.
Hours later, the snow has stopped. There is a small pile of jewelry on the coffee table that I have deemed ready to continue its journey in a realm outside of my control.
“I am not in control.”
I breathe in.
I breathe out.
A cat joins me in my quiet reverie. She yawns and rubs her chin back and forth against the upper left corner of my computer.
My partner is making cookies. I am offered one and decline. I have been sitting all day, and I know that I will feel simultaneous joy and guilt if I partake of one.
“No thank you,” I respond. He knows already that I am engaged in an ongoing struggle between my mind and body. I will eat my daily allotment of one cookie after I have taken a walk through the fresh snow.
It is the last day of the 2014 calendar year. People are sharing resolutions via social media. I am typically ruminating over resolutions for the fast-approaching New Year.
I could resolve to eat cookies without feeling guilty; to stop biting my fingernails and picking at my cuticles; to start celebrating others’ achievements rather than viewing their success as evidence of my own failure.
Were I to make these resolutions, I likely would fail within the day, if not the hour.
This year, I am resolved to set myself up for success. No resolution. I have no need to start anew. I have nothing that needs urgent fixing. I know that I am a work in progress and that progress involves stepping backward even as I step forward. It might be involve sitting still.
Each breathe in and exhale out is an opportunity to simply be present; to simply be.
Will you join me in this meditation?