Rushing around is not a good way to live. We know this, yet we keep cramming in tasks and commitments as if we have no choice. It seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything we have to do. The irony is cruel – that such relentless pushing to get things done usually doesn’t add up to a day well spent.
This question can give us heartache, whether we are in our twenties or sixties. Having no idea what to do next hurts, even as it might excite us on some level. Whether graduating from college or retiring from a long career, the road ahead may seem intimidating in its blankness. Freedom is supposed to be so desirable, yet its reality is often heavy with perplexing dilemmas.
A friend laughed with relief when I told her how noisy my mind is when I step outside intending to sit and listen to birdsong. She thought she was the only one who could barely quiet her mind enough to sit still. I find that the fresh air, earth aromas, and the bird chorus are there for a moment or two and then all that I am trying to savor drops away.
If we knew for certain how long it would go on, we could pace ourselves in caregiving situations and parcel out our energies. But this is rarely the case. Even when a parent reaches an advanced age like ninety, there can be several more years of mutual captivity when the parent has to receive too much and it's hard to figure how much giving is enough.
Childhood lasts a thousand years; the rest of life passes in a blink of time by comparison. Thus, an adaptation made to our particular circumstances long ago may live on in adulthood as cringing around conflict, a habit of self-reliance, barriers against intimacy, set ways of doing things, or other expressions of what happened during that thousand-year period.
Feeling understood on the level of the soul is far more sexy than sex itself. Restoring such excitement to the marriage is the best recourse for those who want to go on enjoying the privilege of having a partner throughout life.
Finally seeing our parents as people is similar to reading a novel at twenty and then reading it again at forty. The reader changes so much in the intervening years that the book seems entirely different. In the second reading, passages that were barely noticed before become significant and moving, and chapters previously skimmed become central.
Inside all of us is a great pool of grief that keeps enlarging as each fresh loss is added to the others. This is why we often find ourselves weeping for earlier losses along with a present heartache. Sometimes even a sad scene in a movie will get me into that pool, and my tears flow from that indistinguishable source.
Life gets better on every level as we get older, except the physical, but stereotypes about aging are so insidious and the physical realities are so prominent that we miss seeing the inner radiance that so many attain.
I don’t carry a cell phone or a web-connected device. I can’t stand the idea of having my attention taken away from who or what is immediately around me. I like to be where I am. Especially if I am walking with a beloved person in the woods near my home, I wouldn’t want to be transported electronically to the vicinity of some other person and place.
Imagine being able to rise above an immediate frustration, to relegate it to a pile of trivial concerns and feel much less bothered. We are constantly assailed with pettiness – tasks, errands, irritants, disputes and ordinary mishaps – and so being able to call up a larger, overriding perspective is surely a key to living well. How do we acquire and hone this capacity?