I lost a resemblance last week. She was not a close friend. I knew her, and she me. But mostly I felt her resemblance. She was a university professor, a teacher passionate and innovative on subjects that matter to me. Her kids are just slightly older than my own. The last time I saw her we were swimming laps together. And now she is gone. And I am here. So easily it could be the other way around. I am very aware of being Here just now - the light on the leaves, the wind, the cold of the floor under my feet, the taste of my tea...pay attention, it all says, don't miss a thing.
In her honor I share the Jane Kenyon poem, 'Otherwise':
I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love. At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.
To pay attention takes time. A phrase has stuck with me since I came across it:
"The modern violence of overwork." Thomas Merton, 1968
This has stopped me cold and I think of it often when I find myself if a rush or overwhelmed.
This means that if in our day-to-day lives we have created patterns of choices that result in overwork, we are doing violence to ourselves. This is a radical thought. And in our families and communities, this overwork radiates out to generate a sense of overwhelming obligation - an epidemic of 'shoulds' that push us forward towards what we could or might be doing/accomplishing, instead of having the presence of mind to pay attention.
If we consider the idea of 'overwork as modern violence against ourselves' in light of October's practice it adds another dimension. This month we consider Embodiment - the making of something out of nothing. We take an idea, a thought, a sensation, each one just a flash of electricity through our brain, and we explore it, expand it, inhabit it. We embody our thoughts. Feeling angry, I often act angrily. Feeling happy, I speak happily, with welcome, with encouragement and gestures. I embody happiness.
We can embody creativity, impatience, ruthlessness, passion, confusion, clarity, prosperity, direction, connection. Each emotion or sensation can become our tone of voice, our gesture, the clothes we wear, the pace we drive or walk or practice. We become the sensation. And we call it out of others (meeting you with a smile likely means I get a smile in return) and we spread it out through the day (someone being angry with me can make me defensive, then feeling flawed I look for flaws elsewhere and perhaps take it out on someone else who shares it on).
What we choose to embody we spread. We affect the space around us.
Ahimsa (non-harming/non-violence) is the first yama of the yoga sutras, the first of the 'mighty, unconditional, universal vows.' Non-harming can also be translated as not violating another's soul. Or more importantly for our considerations here, your own soul.
"In the vicinity of a yogi, men and animals who are otherwise violent and antipathetic towards each other, abandon their hostility and exhibit friendliness and mutual tolerance." - BKS Iyengar
If we are a chronically overworked, overstimulated culture, are we doomed to this endless violence against ourselves? How does the embodiment of overwork disrupt us at a cellular level? At the levels of family, friends, and community? How can we heal and offer healing?
"In all things there is a hidden wholeness." Thomas Merton
We must rebel. We must choose to embody our wholeness, whenever and wherever we find it. We must feed it and embody it. Choosing to live without violence towards ourselves we means we can slow down. We can savour. Converse. Ruminate. We can make the time to pay attention. We can remember to invite others along or bring back what we find. At any moment of the day, we can consider "What am I embodying?" We can tend and reclaim our own peace of mind. Nap. Daydream. Walk.
"It's an act of rebellion to show up as someone trying to be whole and I would add, as someone who believes that there is a hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world." Parker Palmer
I love to look at my week and make sure I have time planned outside, and time with friends. Each day I start and end with a quick shower by candlelight. I have a chalkboard beside my sink that I look at as I brush my teeth, where I write words and ideas I'm considering lately. My calendar is full of daily prompts and designed to help identify what matters to me and keep that front and center. I have specific times of day when my phone is powered down and I am only available to my children and myself. No distractions. These small details help me to feel nourished, to revel in my senses; to rebel.
Over to you: what would you embody/what ARE you embodying? What would you do today to reset your frequency to balance your daily efforts with ease? What moments of pause and blessing would you add to your calendar? What tools do you use to ensure these choices are as deliberate as mailing off bills and packing your lunch.
OnBeing with Parker Palmer
Sticky blackboard and pens
Danielle LaPorte Planner
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