But I've enjoyed every moment of the season thus far. And I don't think this is a coincidence.
I wanted to assure you, though, that the quest for quiet contemplation is both a means to an end and an end in itself. I believe the people who savor life's sweetest moments and see in everyday circumstances both extraordinary miracles and reasons to be grateful and humble are the happiest. I believe slowing down and taking stock is central to this endeavor, and that's why I started this project -- not because I wanted a project or because I wanted my life to feel less chaotic (though the latter is a welcome consequence), but because I believe it is absolutely necessary. My frustration with broken systems has left me discouraged, disenchanted and deflated, which leads me to believe that I am supposed to help hurting individuals rather than fight big and broken organizations. And me taking care of myself is pivotal to me being able to take care of others.
So, I've tried to take a step back. To take stock of what really matters, yes, but also to find the joy in everyday moments. Because those two things are going to guide me and sustain me as I seek to make a difference in some way in the coming years. I'm trying to foster good habits, therefore, and to tell myself constantly to "go slow" and live by the mantra that "more is less."
As such, I've been reading an incredible book (Hanging Out the Wash: and Other Ways to Find More in Less by Adair Lara), and I find that there's an excerpt that I absolutely must share with you. Trust me, it'll kick you in the pants, and you'll enjoy it!
My mother must have been busy—she had seven kids—but in my memory she’s always still, poised over a pot of steaming oatmeal, or holding her face up to the warm sun. She was an indifferent housekeeper and an absentminded cook, and she carried calm with her wherever she went. She used to wash our clothes in a wringer washer and then hang them on the clothesline outside. As she pinned up each garment, she said, she thought about the child it belonged to. She never wanted a dryer, even after we could afford one, because it would steal this from her, this quiet contemplation.
I am just as busy, or busier, than my mother was, with the job and kids and my projects. But it’s a different kind of busyness, a faster, jerkier one, getting one task over with and then on to the next. Thirty years after I watched my mother hang out the wash, I carry the laundry to the basement and toss in the clothes, switching them in a wet clump from washer to dryer. I am doing what she did—drying the family clothes—but not getting as much satisfaction from it.
I know I’m supposed to quit charging around and stop and smell the roses. But I get caught up, like a swimmer in a pool of floating junk, in what’s coming at me. I call the dentist for an appointment, go to lunch, meet deadlines, throw a load in the washer, call back a friend and then think, later, that I must have sounded rushed and unfriendly when that’s not how I felt at all. I fax the mail, scissor open instant meals, answer the phone while wiping off the breakfast table.
I don’t spend a meditative moment really tasting the blackberry jam or gazing at the faces of my sleeping children stepping out to the porch to feel the rain on my face.
Or, if I do, I do it quickly, checking it off the list: Gazed at sleeping children. Lifted face to rain. Note to self: Smell roses tomorrow.
And I’m not alone. Everybody’s life has speeded up. People used to spend months lolling on ocean liners just getting to Europe, or three or four hours in a carriage, smelling the green fields while getting to town. Now we prowl supermarket aisles in search of minute meals, send emails to friends instead of letters, rinse our pantyhose while we’re in the shower, and wear jogging gear to the manicurist so we can take a twenty-minute run while our nails dry…
We work hard even at our leisure, taking cruises that promise to leave us physically drained at the end of each day or replete with new lore from a day-long seminar.
Where, in all this hurry, do we find quiet satisfactions of daily life that we once took for granted? When we do stop doing and start being?...
For a lot of people slowing down means getting their hands on something. They write letters in longhand though they have computers, wash dishes though they have dishwashers. One woman rubs leather shoes with mink oil until they shine, while thinking of the places the shoes have taken her. Another fired her psychiatrist because he laughed when she said she loved to iron. A third goes into the garden just for the sensual pleasure of pulling weeds from the dirt and breathing in the tangy odor. They plant camellia bushes, dance with the kitchen towel, or shovel the driveway while the snowblower sits in the garage.
For others, it means not just looking, but seeing. Some stray out to the yard, at night or first thing in the morning, to look at the sky and breathe the air. Others will spend a day following the light around the house.
A third group takes time for moments of stillness. They arrive early for doctors’ appointments or refuse to use the car on Sundays. A mother decides to wait in the car during her son’s guitar lesson rather than try to hit the bank, gas station, post office, and supermarket and be back in an hour. A woman with grown grandchildren finally found time to watch a leaf fall all the way from the tree to the ground.
Others, like me, are just learning how, just beginning to sample the powerful religion of ordinary life, of freshly mopped floors and stacked dishes and clothes blowing on the line. I am starting to understand that I can reclaim time, slow it down to the tempo I knew in childhood, by getting my hands on things. When this mood comes over me, I find myself wandering out to the backyard to pull weeds and pluck tired blossoms off the flowers. I wash a load of whites so I can fold the t-shirts, hot from the dryer, or call the dog out to the porch for a brushing. When even this isn’t enough, I head to the kitchen to dig out my old ceramic blue bread pan and see if we have any yeast. I dump the dough onto a board, and then knead it, turning it over and over with my hands, adding more flour wherever it’s sticky. Punching it down as the yeast activates and starts to fight back. A bread machine would do this for me, but then I would miss the way using my hands releases my mind, and suddenly I float into the present moment, with no mistakes behind me, no worries ahead of me.
The way to slow down in a hectic world is not to find even more ways of saving time, but to look for ways to spend it. Nowadays when I take a few minutes to step onto the porch in the morning with my coffee—which I’ve started to do now that I’ve been reminded to—I feel that all over the country people are stepping out with me, settling down on the step and listening to the birds and the rhythm of their own hearts…
That is my exact entry for December Daily, Day 19 (and reason #283), adorned with holiday magazine cutouts that resonated with me.
How is YOUR holiday season going? Are you stopping to smell the coffee?