From the Stillness

When was the last time you sat in stillness, uninterrupted by a phone, the television, or any other device, paying attention only to your own thoughts, feelings, and ideas? What comes into your head when the outside distractions of our high-tech world are removed?

There is a peace in the stillness that surrounds us, and that peace can be deeply compelling, if only we sit with it and pay attention.

But it’s scary to be quiet, to listen to the ideas that emerge when we are not frenzied by a need for constant busyness. There are ideas in our heads that tell us we are not who we should be. That we are not involved in activities or work we are passionate about. That we are not living our life to the fullness of our potential.

In the stillness, there are ideas that scare us. They scare us with their bigness. They scare us with their risk. They scare us with their potential that could lead us closer to our potential.

So too often, we choose to turn away from the stillness. Turn away from the possibilities. Turn away from the risks. Too often, it’s easier to stay lost in our busy lives rather than face the unknown.

Lately, I have been working on re-centering myself, removing distraction, and rediscovering who I am and what drives me. I have allowed myself to think about what I enjoy, how I express myself, and how to make the best choices for me in the life I live at this time.

I have taken a job that challenges me to move in new directions and to apply my creative ideas on a daily basis. And every day, I try to sit in the quiet for fifteen minutes. Each day. I try to do more.

In the quiet is where I am finding myself. Where I am rediscovering who I am. Sitting in stillness helps me to re-connect with my soul. And even though being still can be scary, time spent without distractions is definitely worth it.

There is a peace in the stillness that surrounds us. And peace is something we all could use in our lives.

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What matters

There is a vast amount of sensory and intellectual input that we have to process each and every day. Not only do we have to pay attention to the physical world and all that it presents, we have to deal with the virtual world. Advertisements, messages, propaganda, manipulations…. The constant deluge can numb one’s soul and senses if we let it.

I watch students, my children, and so many people walking with their heads down, eyes glued to their devices. These people are walking without seeing and moving through the world without experiencing the life around them. Right next to them, someone may be struggling or celebrating or in need of a kind word, but they miss it.

I am working hard to focus on the things that call to my heart. There are so many things that our society wants us to believe are important and urgent and necessary. But most of these things… they just aren’t. They are not important. They are not urgent. And they are far from necessary. The person who is crying… that is important. The accident that happened two cars ahead… that is urgent. A warm, nutritious meal… that is necessary.

Today, I was stopped at a stoplight. My window was down, and I was at the front of the line of traffic. Standing by the sign on the raised median, awkwardly close to me, was a homeless man. His hand-written cardboard sign made mention of his need for camping supplies and a hot meal.

This got me to thinking. What if I bought a few gift cards to local chain restaurants—the ones with many locations where someone wouldn’t have to go far to get a meal? And what if I were to give these to pan handlers who are advertising their need for a hot meal? What if this simple gesture could make a difference in someone’s life?

As I work to pay attention to the things around me, I sift through all the information that comes in, and I pull out what is important. If I pay careful attention, I might be able to see beyond all the superficial the world presents and look deeply enough to see the things that matter. Instead of becoming numb to all that is around me, I could be spurred to action, be enlivened, and learn how my actions might just matter to someone else.

{Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash}

Cloudy with a patch of…

I was driving to work on Friday morning, minding my own business, when I accidentally hit a patch of grief (because—after all—no one hits these patches on purpose). As grief tends to be, it was sudden and unexpected.  And intense. There was no hiding the tears. But I was in the car on the highway, and the drivers around me didn’t notice and probably didn’t care either way. The tears flowed freely as I drove, and by the time I arrived at work, I was better.

But later that day, intense feelings returned, again while I was driving. This time, I was on the way to take prom pictures of my son, my youngest child. I realized this would likely be the last time I would partake of this particular ritual—meeting up with prom-goers and their families at the local spot with the most picturesque, fairytale-ish gardens. On each of the three years previous (one with my oldest child and two with my middle child), I have known there might be another year. But this time, I am fairly sure this is the last of this tradition. On the drive there, it hit me that with this child, I am entering a pattern of not just “last” for him, but “last ever.”

I may have had this realization subconsciously already, which would explain Friday’s inclination toward emotion. Or maybe there was just something in the wind that day that triggered my soul to react more deeply.

Whatever it was, one thing I’ve learned is that there is always a chance that grief (and emotion) will sneak up and surprise me. These patches, in a way, they bring comfort. They remind me of the things that make up a life—the things that are and the things that were. They remind me that feeling deeply is what makes me who I am. And they remind me that all of these things together make up this journey that is life.

Complacent

On my drive home from work tonight, I had a moment (or two) of complacency. I was caught up in my own thoughts, reflecting on my day and focused on the structure of the evening ahead, and I forgot there is generally traffic on my way home. Tonight, the backup started farther north than usual, and it caught me off guard.

On this night, the backup was not caused by the normal too-much-traffic-on-the-road-to-accommodate-the-lane-drop (which is just poor highway planning, if you ask me). Nope. Tonight’s traffic was brought to you by the state trooper on the side of the road helping a dad and his small son. When I drove by, it was handshakes and high-fives all around. No kidding. I smiled as I continued my drive, and my mind wandered into the past. As my mind wandered, my car drifted toward the shoulder where a car was stopped, jarring me back to the present and into my lane.

It’s never good to become complacent. Not on a drive, nor in life.

If you speed through life without paying attention and you become complacent, you are bound to run into an unexpected obstacle that might have been avoided. If you put yourself on a path toward a desired goal and become complacent along the way, you may never reach your desired outcome. If you reach a goal and then become complacent, you may fail to set any more goals, and you will become stuck. You will continue to coast along, happy with your one (and only) success.

But more importantly, complacency means you are not fully in the moment. It’s vital to stay present if you want to live a rich and fulfilling life. Be engaged with the people around you and the things you are doing; experience life to the fullest, so you can live your best possible life.

{Photo by Viktor Kiryanov on Unsplash}

Buddy Bench

Last weekend, I took part in an annual “Day of Service” with the students in my freshman class. On this day, all of our first-year students disperse to various organizations in order to perform community service work—from working with children or the elderly, to spring clean-up, both indoors and out. My class was split up between an indoor site and an outdoor site, and I put myself with the student group doing outdoor work preparing a summer camp for the upcoming camp season.

Our first task of the day involved raking leaves in the main area of the camp around the office—the area where visitors first arrive. It was raining in the morning—as it had been through the night—and the leaves were sticking together, heavy and wet. As we raked, the leaves rolled up toward us, making it easy to move them onto a tarp in large clumps. Once the tarp was full enough, we dragged it into the woods, and rolled the leaves out of it. We dragged the tarp back to our raking area and started again.

When we finished the main area, the Camp Director took us to a hill by the lake. On the hill, there were several benches placed in a half-circle overlooking the water. Our final task of the day was to clean the leaves and pine needles from under and around the benches. When we were done, the Camp Director told us that the benches were “Buddy Benches.” If campers were feeling lonely and didn’t have someone to play with, they would sit on these benches. Other children knew that those who sat here needed a friend. What a great idea!

This got me thinking… shouldn’t there be “Buddy Benches” for adults, too? How many times over the years could I have used a friend? Why couldn’t it be as easy as simply sitting on a bench and waiting for someone to come and sit next to you and talk. Or listen. Or just be a support system?

If you sit on the Buddy Bench when you are overwhelmed, someone will come and talk you through it.

Stop by when you are lonely or you’ve had a bad day. Have a seat when certain pieces of your life (work, finances, family, spiritual) just don’t seem to fit right.

Come by when you have received bad news, or you’re scared about something, or your health is declining.

Come to the Buddy Bench when your spouse leaves you for “greener pastures,” and you have to figure out how to raise a gaggle of children on your own.

Have a seat on the Buddy Bench when you have lost a loved one, and you don’t think you can go on.

So many people have been through these same things. They won’t make your pain go away, but they can gently guide you through and help you to keep going: step by step, minute by minute, day by day until you can see the light through your troubles.

A Buddy Bench would help you to recognize how many people can understand what you are going through because they have been through something similar. It can show you how many people care and are willing to help.

Because a Buddy Bench will help you to find the people who can best support you. It will give you a place to rest and find comfort and support. And … it will remind you that you are not alone.

We are all in this together. Come. Sit on the Buddy Bench and rest awhile.

{Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash}

Beyond My Control

I am a worrier. I always have been. In fact, there is a story that my dad used to like to tell about my propensity for worry. Because the truth is, it’s been part of me since birth. Or maybe even before.  

When I was little—maybe around five or six…—we would sometimes go on Sunday drives into the woods on very narrow dirt roads. To my child-mind, the roads were too narrow for Dad’s jeep, let alone two cars passing in different directions. We would drive and drive and drive, and I would become more and more and more worried. Finally, I would pipe up from the backseat, “Where are we going to turn around, Dad?” as if it was my job to be concerned about all eventualities. But my propensity for worry prevented me from enjoying the drive, as everyone else in the car seemed to be doing. 

Last week, as I was going through my morning “pre-work” routine, I caught myself trying to figure out way too many pieces and bits of things that are attached to events and situations happening weeks in the future. It is as if somehow it is up to me to predict the future and troubleshoot every possible outcome—both good and bad—before the event even happens. And I do mean EVERY. POSSIBILE. OUTCOME. 

On the flip side, I have spent much parenting life convincing my daughter that there is very little in life that is worth the worry she tends to expend. I see her getting caught up in her thoughts and anticipation of situations in the future, and she is unable to experience the present moment to its fullest extent. Perhaps because I can relate, I work with her to stay in the moment and not worry so much. 

So last week, when I realized I was overwhelming myself, I stopped and took a breath. No, I thought. You are worrying about things that you don’t need to worry about. Most of these things are beyond your control.  

Beyond my control. True. And how much of my life have I devoted to worrying about things that are beyond my control? Too much. I am getting better, but I need to focus on taking things moment by moment. When I feel myself drifting to the future, I will work to pull myself back to the present and enjoy the journey. And I will take my daughter by the hand and lead her on this journey with me. The stress that is inextricable from worry is just not worth it.   

When we are able to step away from the worry and the unnecessary focus on the future, the view—right here, right now—is often pretty fantastic!  

{Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash}

Keep Going

As I have navigated my way through life, there is one very important lesson I have learned. No matter what life throws at you, keep going. Whatever happens, you have the strength to pull yourself through. Life is not always easy. It’s not always happy. But the tough times… they help you to see the good. They help you to grow. They help you to evolve into the best possible version of you.

Keep going. When life throws you a curve ball, and you are suddenly on a path you didn’t expect, keep going. Sometimes, the biggest blessings are found on the detours.

Keep going. When you think you can’t possibly handle any more and you are stressed and frustrated and you think you are going to collapse from the weight of all you have to deal with, keep going. Look around you. Gather some support. Find people who can help you carry your burden. But most importantly, keep going. You will get through this. And you will be stronger for the perseverance.

Keep going. When the plans you have made—for yourself, for your life, for your future—don’t work out, keep going. Often, those plans don’t work out because there is something better in store for you. Keep going, keep striving, keep searching, and you will eventually find it. Or better yet, it will find you.

Keep going. When you are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges like a solid brick wall in your path, keep going. Find a way to get over, under, around, or through the wall, but keep going.

Keep going. Use all of the support systems that you have in place. Bring in your friends. Bring in your acquaintances. Bring in the tanks, the armies, the teachers, and the pets. Bring in whatever you need to. But…

Through it all—tough times and easy times—you will discover much about yourself and others. You will learn what you want to be and what you don’t want to be. You will learn your limits and form your boundaries. You will learn to overcome weakness. You will learn to distinguish the people who are your friends from those you’d prefer to let fade into the background. You will find strength. You will find  beauty. You will find love.

And through it all, you will learn who you are.

Keep going.