Friday, May 7, 2010

Sitting in the Mama Chair

I was restless. A good friend had gone home after spending a day and a half here. We had our usual good time of exploring shops and lingering over meals to continue open-ended conversations. With the house in order and no MUST DO NOW items on my list, I decided to give myself an afternoon off. I gathered a pile of books and my journal and stationed myself on the sunny deck, but it was too warm out there. I moved to the front porch, but it was too cold there. I felt like Goldilocks. Eventually, I got comfortable in the Mama Chair in the living room. Just right, except for that restlessness.

Should I take a nap? Write in my journal? Do some centering prayer? Read? If so, which one of these books tempts me most? I paged through each book, attempting to land on a new shoreline. I read a chapter here and a chapter or two there. I wrote some quotes in my journal. I grazed my way through the afternoon, continuing to feel restless. In fact, I was certain I would later think "I should have done x, y, z." Aside: Something I didn't do --straighten the lampshade before taking the picture. Sigh

I have a friend who reminds me occasionally of all the time I have. Time? What time? I always feel busy, always have one more thing I need to do, want to do. I take her comment as a criticism and as a value judgment. Busy is good. Busy is more. Busy is the norm, the accepted. Busy is the work ethic. Busy is making a contribution. Busy is being productive. Busy is visible. Busy is doing. I buy into that easily, but apparently I am now retired, so what does busy mean in this context?

Several months after my mother died, I went to an intuitive for a reading and she not only gave me amazing and comforting information about my mother, but she also had some words from my Grandmother Hansen, a farm wife extraordinaire, who died many years ago. Her advice was to "stop swatting flies." I wasn't sure what she meant. Was I to overlook small irritations? Not a bad idea. I mentioned the phrase to my father, and he told me she had often said, "If you don't think there is anything more to do, you can always swat flies." In other words, stay busy. There is always something TO DO. But here she was, instructing me to stop doing and start being. What does that mean exactly?

My afternoon of grazing netted two helpful quotations:

Today I am happy to find myself sitting on the ground wanting nothing to do--no, not even wanting it, simply accepting that I am enveloped in nothing to do. I begin to understand how nothing to do is its own state of grace, difficult to find deliberately, nearly impossible to recognize. Nothing to do means I can sit and look and let my mind wander, then empty, then fill again, with wonder or with grief, with anything or with nothing at all. "Nothing to do" is not the same as "nothing can be done." One is hopeless; the other, the place from which hope becomes possible. From Slow Love How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness by Dominique Browning

We may find it useful to inquire into our own thermostat. What if we take a moment and reflect on our life: How do we know, for example, when we have done enough work for this day? Is it when we collapse from complete exhaustion, however late at night? Or when the clock strikes a particular hour? Is it when we finish replying to all the emails in our inbox? How do we know when we have taken on too many projects? Is it when we get sick--or when so many mistakes start happening, each piling one upon the other, so that our life and work seem to just freeze up, paralyzed, unable to go on any further? What teaches us when to speed up, when to slow down, when to stop? From A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller

While I know what it means to "DO," I am not sure what it means to BE," even though I am always talking about being present and that I am a human being and not a human doing, but what that means remains unclear to me. My only plan at this point is to sit in the Mama Chair more often and let my heart graze and gaze. Perhaps that is enough.

FYI: The Books in the Pile
The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende (memoir)
Claiming Ground, A Memoir by Laura Bell (cattle rancher, forest ranger, outfitter, masseuse, wife and mother in Wyoming.
Slow Love by Dominique Browning (Memoir mentioned above. Browning is former editor of House and Garden)

Intimacy and Solitude, Balancing Closeness and Independence by Stephanie Dowrick (On my shelf for a long time. Perhaps this is the time.)

The Circumference of Home, One Man's Yearlong Quest For a Radically Local Life by Kurt Hoelting ("part quest and part guidebook for change")

Open Mind, Open Heart, The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating (Have read before, but want to read again because it is the definitive book on centering prayer)

A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller (The title says it all!)

Women, Food and God, An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth (This title says it all, too.)

The Journal Keeper, A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux (Why didn't I write this book?)


  1. My brother is visiting from Colorado. This morning we were having a conversation over our morning coffee that was strikingly similar in content to today's post on your blog. Ted posed this question: "If you are what you do, what are you when you don't?" Excellent food for thought! Joan

  2. Your posts address such far-reaching questions and topics that it's hard to reply to them with just one answer or comment! I can share that I, too, bounce around between tasks and work some days, wondering "is THIS what I'm to do with time today?"

    When I do yoga in the morning or take a walk first thing I can usually cross out the first five things on my To Do list, however, realizing they were unnecessary. Why is that, I wonder? It's easier to Be when you realize you'll never do everything and maybe walking helps me connect with that.

    Also, a friend's leaving leave a void and busyness often rushes into it, unless we mourn her/his departure. I'm going through that now. Sigh. Wait. Be.