Letting Go

Only So Much

 

How do you live with only so much?

I cannot imagine.

It must be so difficult,

and so full of inconvenience.

 

I cannot imagine

my life without any of those things I am

so full of. Inconvenience:

it’s not for me, I’m afraid-

 

my life without any of those things. I am

the things I have.

It’s not for me. I’m afraid

to lose any of it-

 

the things I have.

It must be difficult

to lose any of it.

How do you live with only so much?

 

Carri Kuhn.

 

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Whenever I go on a long distance hike, I am reminded of the joy of simplicity and focus. All you have to do is get from where you are, to where you are going. On some trips I’ve stayed in pretty cottages or comfortable B&B’s. On others I’ve slept in tents or even under the stars. On some walks we’ve had only what we could carry on our backs, and I’ve been given the privilege of stripping my days down to the absolute necessities: no extra clothes or shoes or complicated choices about food.

I am thinking about these things as I journey through Lent this year. How can I let go in order to create a greater sense of clarity and focus in my days? My thoughts this year are not only about the physical things I want to release, although there are some of those. I am reflecting more on the clutter of my inner landscape. When I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece, I had in mind the material stuff that so often holds my attention and shifts my life away from the deeper and weightier things. But over the last couple of weeks, I have come to wonder about the habits and patterns of thought that limit me and cloud my ability to see clearly the work that God is doing in my life.

In what ways is my thinking dividing me from others, from the ability to see them, to see their needs? How do fear and anxiety, or simple fatigue, block generosity and empathy for those in front of me? How many times a day do I miss the power and beauty of the reminders of God’s love and activity in my life, because I am stuck in old repetitive thoughts? My mind tires as easily as my body, and I need to be careful to nourish and rest it.

Awareness is the start, of course. And then sitting in stillness with that awareness, to acknowledge the feeling and thinking that swirl around in my head. I think I’ve spoken before about being curious and asking questions, excavating an understanding of these often hidden things. In unraveling my thoughts and creating transparency, I find myself better able to build new pathways in my mind. Ones that are more helpful and aligned with the things I care about and want to define my life. More aligned with God’s wisdom.

So this year I am not only giving things up; I am adding things too. More sleep, more prayer and quietness. More time for reading and reflection. I want to make space for God’s thoughts, to sweep clean the debris that has collected over the years, to let in the light.

 

 

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Welcoming the Guests

The Guest House

 

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival

 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honourably.

he may be clearing you out

 

for some new delight.

 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

 

Be grateful for whatever comes

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

 

Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

 

SAM_4273

 

I used to think that life was a puzzle to be solved, a kind of Rubik’s Cube. I thought that as I got older, I would learn the combinations, how to twist pieces of my existence, my circumstances and myself in just the right way, so that everything would fall into place and be all neat and colour-coded and manageable. At first, this kind of thinking led me to pretend a lot. I had to convince myself (and others) that I was getting it right. Those niggling insecurities and struggles weren’t real. I buried them under a pile of activity, and when that didn’t work, I hid inside books and stories.

Then came a series of failures and disappointments that threatened to undo me. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. I read books and practiced what they preached. I delved into my mind, creating awareness of the patterns and habits that shaped my choices, and tried hard to understand the swirling currents of thought and motivation that formed my identity. I encountered insights and had epiphanies, all the while believing that zen-like peace lay just around the corner. I was gathering all the pieces together and soon the picture would be complete. I would become the mother/wife/daughter/friend/Christian/writer/horsewoman/homemaker I always knew I could be.

I would have days that confirmed my belief that I was making progress, only to sink into frustration when the inner compass of my emotions veered south, or some external struggle came my way. I pushed myself harder, if I could just be better, do better, get more clarity. I rejected emotions I saw as negative, as the enemy of my quest for equanimity. And the more I denied them, the more they insisted I hear them.

So I started listening; I started to believe that those ‘dark’ parts of me had things to say, lessons to teach. I stopped trying to shoo them out; I acknowledged my frailty to myself, and to others. I discovered that people would still love me, still respect me, even still like me. I invited these heavy things into conscious recognition. And I learned that I am, after all, just human.

I am still reading, still trying to understand. But it’s no longer an attempt to reach perfection (a moving target if ever there was one). I am learning that it is a good thing to sit with the ambiguity and complexity. It’s okay to allow myself to ponder on my anger, my fear and my anxiety. I can welcome them to the table where I sit to have conversations with myself and with God, conversations about what it all means and how I can reach more fully into everything I am meant to be. I can learn to be present to the discomfort and confusion. I can stop striving, while still stretching into new capacities and perspectives.

I know now that life is full of puzzles, and I will solve some of them. In some parts of my life, I feel freedom and light. In others, there is still struggle. I do get discouraged and overwhelmed sometimes. But I am learning slowly to be comfortable with that, to be curious about it, rather than spiralling into defeat. I am beginning to appreciate the whole, with all its incongruity and imperfection.

 

Birthdays

Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.

A.A.Milne.

 

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It was my birthday yesterday. I woke up to two very sleepy teens and a chirpy husband, bearing gifts and wishes. Our boys had been to a local deli and presented me with a box full of homemade chocolates. My husband had bought me Amazon vouchers (more books on my kindle, best gift ever). I left early to make the long drive out to the farm, wanting to spend my morning with the horses. On arrival I was greeted by my friend Mir and her husband, singing Happy Birthday┬áto me. There was more; she had baked me some chocolate, pear and rosemary muffins, topped with icing and a sprinkling of cacao nibs. I hadn’t yet eaten, so I had one there and then. And I have to tell you that a chocolate muffin makes an excellent breakfast. After feeding the horses and doing a few chores, I sat reading while my four legged companions stood around me, their eyes closing for their morning nap. I immersed myself in their stillness. The afternoon was filled with reading, mails and a bit of staring into space (I’m told it’s good for the creative mind…) After supper, my husband and I went down to the beach to watch the sunset and I skipped stones. It was a beautiful day.

I’d started my celebrations on Sunday. We’d spent the afternoon at Kirstenbosch Garden with my folks, my dad’s sister and my mom’s sister and her husband. My mom’s sister and I share a birthday, so there were exchanges of gifts and lots of yummy treats. (My dad had made me a spatula out of beech wood. It is smooth and there are patterns in the grain. It is beautiful.) We topped the day off with the Folk and Acoustic Festival, also happening in the garden.

There were phone calls and whatsapps and more Facebook wishes than I could count, full of emoticons and pretty pictures (and a video of my son’s boss playing me Happy Birthday on a kazoo). To end the day, we watched a funny movie on Box Office, and I laughed a lot.

I went to sleep feeling thankful and very aware that I am surrounded with love and kindness and goodness. It’s all there, all the time and every day, but I often miss it. Yesterday was a moment to pause and cherish all the connections in which I am held and cared for. To all of you, my thanks and appreciation for being part of that.

 

 

Some Quotes

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Sometimes, bible studies feel like tupperware parties held during a bombing raid.

The older I get, and the more I feel Jesus’ power working in my life, the more I yearn after a deeper spiritual discipline-a hungry desperation to be free. I’m done using my faith as a spit-shine finish on sickness.

Heather Caliri

 

I came across these pieces of wisdom today, in Heather Caliri’s blog. the words resonated with me and I thought I’d share them here with you. My post today will be happening on Cara Meredith’s blog. I will send the link later once it’s up (they are ten hours behind us).