Stay Where Your Feet Are

“Wherever your feet are let your head and heart be also.”

S D Armstrong
Covid Caution Comfort

Living alone and in covid caution, I find that I am spending an inordinate amount of time conversing with that tiny little voice in my head. We’re like best buddies spending hours together in front of the fire, sipping mango-ginger tea discussing the profound and the mundane. Sometimes we agree on a conclusion, but we often talk in circles. Lately, we’ve been discussing being present, what exactly that means, and perhaps more importantly…how to achieve it. One of us will stress the importance of living in the moment while the other blethers on about making plans and considering options. We wonder… if we only have the present moment…what happens to memories of the past or desires for the future? It’s confusing.

I know I don’t want to live my life constantly looking backward at the past or the way things used to be. But, conversely, I don’t want to live my life in a future of…someday I’m gonna… or… it’ll be better when. Wouldn’t it be a pity if I fail to recognize each unique, unrepeatable moment by remaining stuck in a past that has already taught all its lessons or in anticipation of a future full of what-ifs? Perhaps living in the present means existing in the space between.

“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”

Thich nhat hanh

Since I prefer discussions to nearly any form of physical activity, I find it rather remarkable that I…a rather slug-like person…have more than one friend who has ridden a bicycle from one shore of the United States to the other. Years ago, my friend, Linda, was the first to take up the challenge. Her route was mapped, and her stops were planned. She was trained, fit, and ready to go. She dipped her bike tires in the Pacific Ocean near Portland, Oregon, then set off to meet three young men who were going to make the trip with her. Together they began the adventure.

At some point early on, Linda became separated from her companions. In those pre-cellphone pre-internet days, with no hope of reconnecting with the guys, she wandered into a cafe to grab a cup of coffee and ponder her next move. Before long, she was relating her tale of woe to four of the coffee shop regulars who were seated at a nearby table. She was disheartened and discouraged. Could she go on alone, should she go on alone, or did it make more sense to pack up her bike and take the next flight home? The old men listened carefully, and then the one with the salt and pepper whiskers and a Johnny Cash t-shirt put down his cup and looked at her earnestly. Then, slowly and deliberately, he asked, “Can you do today?”

“Sure, I can do today,” she replied.

“Then do today. You can always quit tomorrow.”

And so it went all across the United States. Each day she would rise and ask herself. “Can you do today? Then she’d add,” You can always quit tomorrow.”

Knowing that she only had to do today and could always quit tomorrow gave Linda permission to cast worries aside and be fully awake and aware during this never to be repeated adventure. Together with the preparations and conditioning she had done, this simple idea allowed her to move forward one day at a time while staying right where her feet were… in the toe clips of her bike…alive, joyful, and open. She lived each day enjoying the wind in her hair, feeling the aching muscles of the climb, marveling at the beauty of the earth that surrounded her, grateful for the blessings of people she met along the way, and truly living in the present moment.


You Can Always Quit Tomorrow
Photo credit: Pexels-Pixabay

“Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

George Harrison”

It’s probably true that if I want to hear God laugh, I just have to tell Her my plans. On the other hand, having a plan…preparing for what might lie ahead…takes much of the worry out of an uncertain future and allows us to live with confidence that all will be well. Using lessons from the past, we can see the path forward and can relax, be present, and delight in the ride.

It’s not necessary to forget or ignore the past to live in the moment. Just don’t stay there. Check the weather report, study for the test, make sure there’s gas in the tank, and then let it be what it will. We’ve done what we can. Pay attention, savor, and enjoy. Then even if things don’t work out the way we want or expect we’ll know that everything will be all right.

All of life is lived in short, bite-sized pieces…days, hours, minutes. Ordinary moments. None of us can do more than live the best now we can. We don’t have to do life all at once. We just have to do it one day at a time. And…there are times when we need to remind ourselves…that each day is lived one hour…one minute… at a time. Sometimes it’s enough just to do that one hour…that single minute, knowing that even in moments of pain, despair, fear, and grief, living in the moment can help us find peace, hope, and grace. 

“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.”

Oprah Winfrey
The Chapel at Sunrise
Star Island 2021

One summer, as the week was winding down at the Arts Retreat on Star Island, the minister for the week, Rev Bill Clark, gave us this instruction “Don’t leave the island,” he said, “until you leave the island.”

All of our off-island problems would be waiting for us onshore when The Thomas Layton docked in Portsmouth. So why pick up that luggage before it’s absolutely necessary? With seven miles separating us from the mainland, why squander our remaining time concerning ourselves with that we couldn’t control anyway. Instead, drink in the startling beauty of the star-studded sky, the comforting warmth of friendships, the peace of a chapel full of candlelight, and the orchestral sound of sea birds and waves…remembering to stay where our feet are, living in the glory of now.

The White Island Lighthouse
September 2021

We build our future upon bricks we laid in the past and let go of what we can’t control, realizing the only time we really have is the moment we are living. Sometimes that includes creating the grocery list, putting gas in the car, and making the bed. Mountaintop experiences are rare, so we must find joy in the ordinary, the mundane, and the common. Let the chocolate melt on our tongue. Feel the crunch of snow beneath our feet. Watch the birds at the feeder. Smile at strangers and hold our loved ones close. After all, I ask that wee voice…isn’t that living in the moment and being present for life?

“THIS is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

Epilogue….Two months later, Linda dipped her tires in the Atlantic Ocean in Portland, Maine

Doing My Homework

After this long winter of isolation, when my church offered a class on spiritual exploration, I jumped at the chance. Who knew there would be actual…homework? I haven’t done homework in years. The first assignment was to write a spiritual autobiography documenting our personal religious journey. These we would share together in class. Yikes!

Writing an autobiography of any kind would have been easier if I had taken notes along the way.  As it is, my memories are written on post-it notes, scraps of yellowing paper, and captured in photographs without location or dates…all stuffed in boxes, tucked between the pages of books, left unattended in old suitcases, and scattered across the top of my desk.  To truly make sense of all this ephemera would take much longer than the time allotted for the assigned task, but perhaps I can begin by sorting the debris into stacks and piles.

Gathering the bits together, I realized that I have forgotten a great deal of my life. That realization caused me to feel embarrassed and somehow lacking until I recalled the words of the Irish priest and poet John O’Donahue. “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” I think that is pretty much how I’ve lived my life… simply being carried along by the current, paddling hard through the rapids and around the rocks, enjoying the sun on my face when drifting on the quiet water, and approaching each new bend with curiosity, wonder, and courage…as well as a wee bit of trepidation and hesitancy. I haven’t spent a great deal of time looking back at the water that carried me.

The Chippewa River…Sylvan’s Solace
October 2020

Creating a lifeline and guessing where I am on it reminded me of when a new woman was invited to join Book Babes, my Vermont book club. She said that she’d like to ask three questions to get to know us.   All of them were unusual for getting acquainted questions, and I’ve forgotten two of them, but the third stuck with me.  She asked each of us in turn how long we wanted to live.  I replied that I wanted to live until I died.  My answer was in no way intended to be cheeky or flip. As I age, I realize that It’s not the length of life that concerns me. It is the loss of meaning, purpose, and joy that worries me. On the other hand, my definition of meaning, purpose, and joy are also constantly evolving.  I have had the example of women who lived…and are living…wonderful active lives well into their nineties, but I have also seen my grandmother disappear into Alzheimer’s. Yes, I definitely want quality…but then… quantity would be nice too.

There are a finite number of marbles in my jar…just so many big trips and grand adventures left.  I’m angry that the pandemic has robbed me of some of those cat-eyes and clearies…places I wanted to go and plans I wanted to make…but in some sense, living through a pandemic is a pretty big shooter as marbles go…a once in a century adventure… just not one I would have chosen.

An Unknown Number of Marbles in The Jar
Photo credit: Pixabay

 “I was going to decide whether I had a marble-worthy day based on how I felt, not based on what I did…I want to approach my time moving forward with an infinite mindset. I want to “feel” supported, loved, seen and I want to depend on my circle of truth-tellers who I’ve chosen to be there for me.”

Maria Shriver, Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper

Even with so many pieces of my spiritual journey misplaced, lost, and forgotten, I am finding the task of condensing it to a manageable size without resorting to an “and then” story very challenging.  Deciding what…or how much…I want to share is also part of the process. Then, too, as I continue my sorting, I discover with very few exceptions…people, places, and events don’t fit easily into a single category.  Most of them overlap, very few stand-alone.  The same people and places keep appearing, transforming, and reappearing. So, I continue to sort and re-sort then sort again.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

African Proverb

As I modify and alter the collection of souvenirs and guidebooks from my spiritual journey, a pattern emerges.  Throughout my entire life, I have been supported, shaped, and influenced by my relationship with people…my parents, my siblings, my husband, my children, my teachers, my long-time friends, my new friends, and even momentary connections with strangers. Together we have shared deep discussions about life, spirituality, and ethics, as well as the going rate for the tooth fairy, which way the toilet paper should hang, and jokes on the level of a Fifth-grade boy.  We have held each other in times of loss and pain and spent hours just sitting side by side in silence.

These people have joined me in my travels too. Together we have stood in awe in the mountains of Sedona, been lost inside St Basil’s Cathedral, slept in a wee cottage on the shore of Loch Fyne, watched a storm brew in the Atlantic Ocean, emerged from a 5000-year-old burial mound at Newgrange, and enjoyed countless hours in a darkened theatre in Ontario. Each experience has revealed another facet of what I recognize as sacred and divine. Through my relationships, I have understood, found meaning, and been blessed by these revelations.

“A good friend listens to your adventures. Your best friend makes them with you.”

Unknown

As I stuff all the bits and pieces back in the containers from which I gathered them, it occurs to me that perhaps we write an autobiography not so much for others as for ourselves. Through writing, we give voice to what we already know. I may leave out the twists and turns in the telling, but my path has led me to the perfect destination…the realization that human connection and traveling are spiritual practices. Talking with friends, being with my sisters, planning short jaunts and long trips are no longer inessential distractions or rewards. They are necessary, important, and sacred—what a delightful surprise.

“Do you know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Anchor chains, airplane motors, and train whistles.”

George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life

Of course, during this pandemic, those were the most difficult things for us to do…travel and be with others, yet we are resilient. We have discovered ways to connect and share our lives without being physically close. We read maps, make plans, and create itineraries for future adventures even as we explore new ways to make meaning and find purpose from our living rooms, dens, and kitchens. And so, the journey continues, and isn’t that an adventure in itself?

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Rumi

I completed my assignment with time to spare. It was then I remembered the second part…the additional task…write your own epitaph. If one day you stumble across a slab of granite with this one carved into it…you’ll know that it’s me.

“I told you I was sick”

Cemetery on Elm Street, Montpelier, VT