6:30 a.m. Last day of August. My favorite: time of day, time of year, spot on the planet. Most early mornings are spent in silence and solitude. These moments are improved by the beauty that is summer. I watch from my garden deck overlooking the oak savannah as a buttery sunlit field gradually spreads over the meadow. There is deep peace in this little spot of glory. Deep gratitude finds a similar spot in the center of my body.
It’s all perfection in this liminal time.
The time before the Issues and Improvements Department opens for the day.
Apparently there’s a lot of me that thinks I could use some help, could be better. Do more. Quit wasting her frickin’ time just hanging out. And she has a few things to say about duties and goals. She has a whole team with clipboards and plans for my day. She frowns on me from the other side of the door, locked out for now. I sit peacefully in my pajamas, watching the sky and the birds and animals show up for the day.
In the opinion of the Head of the Improvement Department, a quick Self-Help project is just what’s needed. Its operational mission is to convince me that I have a problem that can be fixed in any number of ways I have not yet explored. She keeps nagging me on and off throughout the day.
But mornings. They’re my time. For many years I have opened the day with silence. Then I pick up my pen and write my “morning meditations,” with the prayer and the hope that this will remind me of what’s really important to my soul as I prepare to for my day. This morning routine has become as necessary as breathing. There’s a good hour before the world around me begins to assert itself, to give me something I must react to. Before I move into the day’s lists and calendar items.
It’s a Be Here Now kind of start to the day. Breathing. Silence. Dreams re-emerge… Thoughts and images of all the people I hold close show up on the screen. I watch. Send love. Send prayers. Breathe. Be. There’s nothing to do. Nowhere to go (yet).
I write down a few observations about the wisdom of the season: the trees, sky, weather, the turning of the planet. What teaching does the world around me offer? Here. Now.
Then there’s an urgent phone call from the Improvements Department. Someone in my world is a problem (usually me). After a thorough review, it has been determined that I must: stop eating all sugar, walk 4 miles a day starting today (on creaky knees, yet), read the Bible or the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita. Now.
All of it is offered For My Own Good. Although there can be true guidance in the recommendations of the Department, much of it is the same old well-oiled loop of self-judgement: Strategies for dealing with some outworn thoughts that go something like this: I’m not good enough, fit enough, prepared enough, enough enough.
All the searching of the past thirty years has taught me to see most of these lies for what they are: an old, tired, narration of a story about me that hasn’t been updated for the last thirty years.
I thank her for her opinion and then go back. Back to Being. Here. Now. This morning.
This is the practice, the challenge, the evolution.
Peace. Awareness. Mental Loop. Note what needs to be heard. Thank the rest. Go back to breathing. Rinse and Repeat.
This has been the perfect season for my highly competitive inner slacker. I’ve put up my feet and sipped ice beverages with the best of them. “Mañana” has become my favorite word. All was good until I noticed that September is sneaking up behind me. And now Slacker Sue and Serious Susan have come to a face-off.
I sit right now in the mountains, savoring the summer air, listening to the nearby creek. I want to write about the stuff that folks from my home state Oregon are known for. Boring old Nature and mountains and beaches and stuff like that. The stuff of life.
That’s what I want to write about. And I will write that. But first I need to put aside all the roles and responsibilities and identities that keep demanding attention. This means forgetting for a while that I’m a (Fill in the Blank): ____ mother/coach/mentor/teacher/wife/daughter. A Self who has Big Responsibilities.
This requires some amnesia about all the ways I could definitely improve myself, forgetting for a few minutes the next goal on my Self-Improvement Agenda. I’ve had a serious addiction to Self-Improvement for almost forty years now, so this habit of self- improvement has a bit of a toehold.
I’m tired of it. And yet, as I sit under this sunny blueness of a ripe summer day, I do remember…for a time. And then I go back to all the clichés of that Stuff of Life. The whole miracle of it.
Okay, having written that, Slacker is back in full-on form. Extreme-Slacker. Pause.
The month of August is half over now. I have a choice: A: to experience as much pleasure as I can jam in. Or B: as much presence as I can remember to have. I choose A and B. The two seem to walk hand-in-hand.
That is the wish, my affirmation or intention or whatever you want to call it during this Ripest of Times.
Savor. Presence. And Pleasure. The marriage of the two.
What All Animals but Man Know is that the Purpose of Life is to Enjoy It. ~Samuel Butler.
This bittersweet moment arrives every summer. The calendar flips and we’re in August. Not yet! We cry. There’s another month until Labor Day. Some of us (as in me) wear blinders to the darker fall colors and school supplies subtly reminding us of what’s coming.
And yet, (and this is important): Fall is not here yet.
I once asked a group of fellow teachers when the recurrent dreams of the school year had ended. Every one of us had dreams of forgetting lesson plans or underpants as we arrived to teach a room full of teenagers until around Aug. 1st. Our jobs required us to return to set up for the next school year the last week of August. We figured that gave us a good three weeks of real vacation. The psychic battles of the last year were won and the next year’s challenges hadn’t yet presented themselves.
Three weeks of freedom.
That’s August. A time out of time. Europeans cities famously shut down for the month. The world of jobs and the myriad of other duties that claims our attention can slip. We can put up our feet, find a good piece of fluff to read at the beach or park. Go to a festival. Meet friends or family for a picnic. Go on a hike or backpacking trip. Or take a road trip.
But in the middle of all the activity that summer brings, there is that day (or that special time every day) that you can claim for Timelessness.
Time for your essential self. To savor. To sit in a chair and watch the sunlight move over the trees and the fields. To drink it all in.
To relish the meaning of life with full-on enjoyment. This is my lesson plan for the next three weeks. What’s yours?
Sea Star is the name of a watercolor in my office, painted by a friend years ago when she was traveling in India. She was on the beach in Goa watching the sea when a local woman, arms full of colorful, dancing scarves, swept up to her: “Sea Star, You want to buy?”It took her a minute to realize that the woman was calling her “sister,” not selling her sea stars or starfish.
Sea stars, or “sisters,” my dear women friends, have held me in kindness, given me tea and sympathy and laughter my whole life. The painting is a vivid reminder of the strength of this tribe of love.
And then there are the other Sea Stars, the variegated, orange and purple creatures of the sea that are also called starfish. The sea stars inhabit the temple of tide pools where I return each year on my birthday, smack dab in the middle of summer. Every year it coincides with the lowest tide of the season. These stars are for me an icon of magic and transformation.
It came about on my 50th birthday. After three days of solitude, writing and prayer, I stopped by the beach on my way home. It was the lowest tide of the year. I didn’t set any intentions or send out any requests. As I was walking along the beach, I simply thought of my childhood religion and decided to immerse myself in the water of a tide pool. It felt like a kind of baptism for the second half of life.
I came across a large tide pool, a temple with walls of green sea anemones and starfish. The sea stars bundled together on the rocks, a vivid testimony of beauty. I dunked myself in the water, and when I surfaced I heard the name “Susan Grace” loudly in my mind. I had been joking about getting a new name, but this was a bit more of a result than I usually got from my off-handed jokes. So I decided not to try to figure anything out, but to simply honor the moment by beginning to use the double name. Since that day I have done the best I could to actually become more graceful, literally, and to connect with my body in movement. I began a mindfulness practice, took more yoga and Tai Ch’i, and added some improv dance classes for good measure.
But most importantly, I began to welcome (and recognize) a subtle sense of being held by a force greater than I could understand. A force of mystery as big as the Sea Stars (or my Sisters). Thank you, Sea Stars!
What icons or images connect you with the mystery of being? What have your Sea Star women friends taught you about life and love?