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What do you want from being alive?
On allowing all the layers
This week I’m thinking about listening, about all the layers that are present when I pay attention. Even when it’s quiet, there’s possibility filling the space that is there when the din dies down. That possibility usually allows me enough mental space to sink into the present and navigate whatever it is that’s going on. Today when I listen, there are sounds I love to hear, like birds chirping, the beaver’s tail slapping the water, the trill of tree frogs, the door creaking open to fill the house with voices of loved ones. And there are the sounds that I get less excited about, like the roar of the neighbor’s combine, lawn mowers humming from all directions, the screeching of those TVs that have popped up at gas stations, and the whine of mosquitoes swarming my favorite reading spot just when I want to be sitting on the deck. And then when I go another layer in and listen to my inner dialogue, I hear myself mulling over what I should make for dinner tonight can we have pasta again? wait, where did I put the kayak paddle, but hmm, should I or should I not re-engage with social media, maybe I should post a picture of this flower, hey, why do my favorite shorts feel like they don’t fit quite right should I start tracking my food but no I hate food tracking
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[Have you ever actually taken a moment and truly listened to your mind just go? It’s really entertaining, and sometimes a little disconcerting. An interesting exercise to try, especially when you’re working on calming the mental body.]
Anyway, as a wellness coach who works with a large number of folks who are trying to lose weight, I tend to lean on the words of Geneen Roth now and then, an author who writes a great deal on identity, our relationship with food, and spirituality. She writes, “Ask yourself what you want from being alive. If the answer is that you want, "[your pronoun] was thin" engraved on your headstone, then forget what I am saying. Lose weight at any cost. If what you want is to know all the folded-down corners of yourself, to understand why you do the things you do and to use your experiences as a road map, then it's okay to relax."
Deep breath. In through the noise, out through the mouth. And again. In through the noise, out through the mouth. Birds are chirping, the breeze is gently blowing, the mind is quieting. In through the noise, out through the mouth. Remember you can return to the breath when the din gets too chaotic.
Calming the monkey mind is a daily practice, even for those of us who write regularly about mindfulness. I’m trying to allow space for all of it, even when what I hear when I listen is unexpected or unwanted. The practice of paying attention, of deep listening, doesn’t always lead to exactly what you want to hear. But I think it does usually lead to feeling more alive.
In that quote by Ms. Roth, she’s talking to an individual who wants to lose weight. But I think we can broaden it to focus on this: What do you want from being alive? What a loaded question, eh? Complex as it may be, it’s worth it to truly mull this over. I’m going to consider the following an ongoing practice, one to simply keep in the back of my mind as I continue living. And I invite you to join me:
1- pick one of your “folded down” corners (a trigger, a core belief, an old, tired story)
2 - consider the thing you’ve identified (just look at it, without judgment)
3 - get curious about what’s underneath it (hmmm..I wonder why….)
4 - set down what you no longer need – when you’re ready – and continue on your way
Journal, discuss with a trusted friend, share in the comments...however you process, however you listen, do so knowing that when you operate from a place of desire to embody the life that’s going to allow you to be your full self, you’ll be able to relax into a way of being that serves you best.
Listening deeply is a road map, a way to navigate the sometimes murky waters of being alive at this time in history. You won’t always like what you hear, but when you hear what you need, you’ll be more equipped to act in ways that are life-giving.
I’ll leave you today with this excerpt from “Becoming Earth” a chapter in Collisions of Earth and Sky:
Becoming earth means lifting my eyes to the sun that peeks through the clouds on a dreary day during a slow walk through a park. It means stepping outside under a sliver of a new moon and wondering where the light has gone through fears that just won’t stop. It means putting my high heels in the closet for good because they just aren’t worth it. It means being an advocate for those forms of life who don’t communicate in ways that technology and progress can understand. It means listening to the stories of those whose voices have been, as Arundhati Roy said, “deliberately silenced or preferably unheard.” It means looking into shadows and dreams and stuff that no one wants to talk about because it isn’t pretty or nice or put together. It means a lot of things if we let it.
It means being fully alive while I draw breath.
In her book on creativity, called What We Ache For, Oriah Mountain Dreamer says we need to “find the marriage of meaning and matter in life and in the world.” That’s what we ache for, isn’t it? To touch and truly know the “fire of being fully alive.”
It all comes back to the noticing—to actively rejecting the pull to numb the unwanted. To be willing to open up to the wonder of walking through a forest at dawn, fog rising from the lake, day stretching out like a canvas waiting for the combination of noticings that will transform it from blank slate to something lovingly and curiously created from the raw stuff of living.
Here’s to being fully alive.
P.S. Those in the Brookings, South Dakota area, mark your calendars for an evening reading and book signing at McCrory Gardens on Friday evening, July 7th. It’s a delightful time to visit the gardens with so much in full bloom! There will be local wine and light refreshments. Stay tuned for more information as the date gets closer….
Here we go week three of social media sabbatical.
When I took Nutrition 101 in college and we had to track food for a week as an assignment, I ate the same exact thing every single day. I still remember what it was: breakfast: bagel with cream cheese; lunch: pasta from the salad bar, topped with green peas, feta cheese, and garbanzo beans; dinner: green salad with more garbanzo beans and feta, and a grilled cheese sandwich made in the waffle maker. Food tracking helps a lot of people become more aware, but I’d rather not participate in this aspect of my wellness profession.
Actually, I think no matter what era you’re alive in, the waters are often murky.