Life is Not a Series of Tasks

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I am sitting in my favorite diner.

That’s the line I often write when I have no idea where I am going with my writing on a particular day. I generally actually AM in my favorite diner when I write them. It’s the typing version of saying “um” before speaking.

When I write things for other people – ad copy, web work, talks, I rarely have trouble writing. I have a purpose. I have facts. I have an audience. I am a craftsman. It’s not about me. It’s about whoever is paying me to generate good words about a good project.  Years of training, education and practice and a modicum of discipline and voila! Deadlines met.

My morning writing is different. It is a discipline meant to keep my mind and emotions supple. It helps me figure out me. And it generally starts not with a plan or an idea, but a blank slate.

I meditate. It’s something I began after my divorce a gazillion years ago. I wished I had learned the practice earlier. I had an overactive mind that got overwhelmed by it all, and had trouble getting the thoughts and emotions out. Mix with a dash of depression and you have someone who needed help getting from “functional” to someone you might consider a person worth having a relationship with.

Meditation is one of my tools. I have a lot of them. I need a lot of them. But they work. I clear my mind in the morning. I clear my mind part way through the day. And when I come here to my favorite diner, I have no agenda.

I simply ask myself the same thing: What am I feeling?

Feelings got lost in my world somewhere back there. Life became a series of tasks. Things to be done. And there were too many of them.

That, the too many part, was my own fault. I allowed myself to be drained dry by other people’s needs, keeping up the array of tasks that had to be done. Bit by bit, I allowed the things that nourished me to whither and drop to the wayside. I called myself selfish for wanting quiet time, time to create, to ponder and wonder.

And pretty much, the best of me died.

Well, not really. The best of us rarely dies, I was more like a fallow field. I needed rest and work, I needed to be reseeded and I needed the patience of time for nature to do what nature does when left to it’s best practices. Recover.

It was a painful time, those first years of coming back to myself. I had the trait of beating myself up relentlessly instead of examining what parts were mine and what parts were not mine to take responsibility for. I had to deal with being lost. Me! Who had always been the one people turned to when they were lost. I had to deal with cutting away deadwood – parts of me that had died and deserved to die and were just weighing me down.

I read. I went to therapy. I talked to pastors. (Shoutout to David and Carol!). I spent a lot of time looking inward.

Seeking your soul when that soul is broken is hard work. It’s a gaping mess and it takes imagination and faith to think that ugly thing you are staring at has potential. I had to learn to cut out the voice of my ex-wife, who I had listened to for 25 years and who had mattered, but could no more see potential in me than I could at that time. Suddenly, that thing I loved the most in life – alone time. Looking into my soul time. Was painful and hard and often left me in despair.

Ah, but meditation saved me. That sounds dramatic because the truth is all kinds of things and people saved me. Particularly the people around me. Friends who knew the real me better than I did myself at that time. A surgical, perceptive, spiritual counselor who despite her gentle nature never let me off the hook. Pastors.

Books! Books were my mirror. I read them on the recommendation of all kinds of people and over and over again I saw myself in them, and gathered tools around me to help me. I have become a walking encyclopedia of self-examination and self-help books. None of them had all the answers for me in particular, but they had answers to bits and pieces.

Did I mention medication? I’ve been on the stuff for twelve years. I got lucky. We found something early one that worked pretty well. It didn’t change me, it just took the edge off the depression so I could do the mind work needed to press on and really change things. At this point it’s a question mark as to whether I actually need the stuff, but the tiny dose I take is like insurance against rough times.

But meditation! That was the game changer for me.

There’s all kinds of meditation. For me, the kind that works best is not the kind that seeds thoughts but the time that drains thoughts and empties me. Leaving no place for anxiety (worrying about what might happen) or depression (worrying about what has happened and our worth.). There is only now. I can look at now. What is. In a healthier way. Not good. Not bad. Just is.

I’ve been sick the past couple of weeks. Nothing special, just the plague of the years that seem to hit a lot of folks. It was a rougher than usual batch, and sent me to the doc a couple of times.

I do what people do. I plowed through. I did the things that had to be done. Life became again, a series of tasks to be done rather than a life to be lived. I got everything done. Other than putting up with a nagging cough and hoarse voice, I don’t think most people noticed.

Except of course, my poor wife. She is such a wonderful caretaker. She is the one who sent me off to the doctor’s – both times. I am sure I would be worse if I had not gone. She prods me to make sure I take my medications. (I am notoriously sloppy at that.). She is always checking in on me, asking me if I have been drinking, did I eat, all that good stuff I tend to forget when I am feeling bad.

She and I talk.

OK, I know most couples talk, but I mean, we talk. Constantly. Substantively. Not just about the weather and the day’s schedule, but about what is on our hearts, what makes them sing and what makes us mourn. We laugh and we get frustrated and we rejoice together. We puzzle things out. I read somewhere that the average married couple, when you take away the have to do day to day stuff of the day, only talks about 15 minutes a day about real things. For us that would not even be foreplay to the foreplay.

We talk.

But we haven’t talked a lot. the past couple of weeks. I’ve been sick. She’s had way too much on her plate, but in terms of things to do and in emotional terms. We’ve been buried.

Friday night, on the way back from a family visitation for a funeral I was to do Saturday, we stopped for dinner, and the floodgates broke loose. We talked and talked and talked. We emptied out all the backlog of the past week. It was a reconnection and relaxation we both needed.

And Saturday, I began meditating again. Rebalancing after a week or two out of balance. Ah, the emptying out!

The tasks got done. But the important stuff. The sanity stuff. Didn’t always. It got pushed back. Only for a couple of weeks. I was in no danger. Not like so many years before. Still, it made a difference. Looking at the poems of the past few days, they are raw. Not bad, just raw. The result of there just not being enough of me.

I think that was one of the curses of thinking too much. I never thought there was enough of me. I was never enough. There were all these things to deal with and it was (I thought) mine to deal with them.

Pretty prideful stuff, thinking I needed to be in everything I was thinking about. Who did I think I was? As I let things go, life went on. As I let fears go, the bad stuff rarely happened. Mostly, life is good stuff. Whether we are involved or not. Years into this new, less worrisome way of living, I am far better off. And as far as I can tell, the people around me are no worse off for my not being and trying to take care of everything. In fact, they may be better off.

So today, and most days, I empty myself. I start anew. I ask myself simply, what am I feeling? And I let my poems tell me. Mostly, I am as surprised as you.

Today, I am thankful. I have survived another period of life being tasks. That more than the array of germs and viruses coursing through my body, has been my enemy the past couple of weeks. I am back to myself.

I missed some things. A gathering of friends of mine was happening down the road, with people I love coming from all over the country. I didn’t go, between funerals and other people’s needs and my sickness, I just didn’t make it. That’s OK. They had a great time without me. I wasn’t even missed, I suspect.

Some work didn’t get done. You should see the laundry piled up. And until last night, the dishes. That’s OK. I have enough clean clothes and enough dishes to catch up. And I will.
But the peace? It’s good to have it back. After living a life without it for my first fifty some odd years, and discovering it only late in life, I miss it terribly when I can’t do the work to keep it handy.

I am grateful. I have survived myself. I have survived others who would rather I didn’t. I have a woman whose love humbles me in my life. I have two children whose love I once thought I had lost, who love me dearly. I have friends. I have a faith that is deep and open-hearted. I have food and shelter and good work. Mostly, at last, I am at peace with myself. Not perfect, simply at peace.

Everything else? It’s gravy. All I need is in that one paragraph.

Grateful.

Grateful.

Grateful.

Time to have breakfast.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

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