Confessions of a “doer”
Humming to the shy soul, letting it hum back to me.
I’m a midwestern woman, raised on my mother’s 1st generation Italian/American lasagna and my grandmother’s amish farm style rhubarb custard pie, an unwavering belief in the Chicago Cubs and a really walloping dollop of unrelenting work ethic. In short —I’m kind of a do-er.
There are things that I really appreciate about my passion for doing, which shows up in my love of creating, reading, gardening, writing, singing, hiking, biking and generally a love of the awesome things I discover and encounter daily in people, my vocation, my art and in the natural world. I appreciate my own creative restlessness. And honestly, our culture gives us lots of kudos for “doing.” The cultural response to me saying, “Gosh, i’m so busy there are not enough hours in the day” will most often be one of affirmation, “Good for you, you’re doing so much, aren’t you admirable in your totally overwhelmed state of being.” So my own personal inclination to “do” has pluses and passion. But I’m also clear that as much as I am called to “do” that I am equally called to “be.” But that calling to “be” is not encouraged and lifted up the same way as a life of perpetual motion. And yet, in my experience, there are endless daily reminders, moments that stop me in my tracks or jar me out of the trance of too much to do.
I remember walking down the street with my daughter on a sunny spring day. We were holding hands, laughing and asking one another questions. My daughter asked “If you could do anything at all at this moment, what would you do?” I think she was expecting I’d say something like, “grow wings and fly to the moon,” “climb a tree and pick a bushel of perfect apples” or maybe “end war and world hunger.” But without thinking I blurted out, “I’d just sit down on that bench in the sunshine and talk to my mom” as the tears welled up over my lower eyelids. My mother had passed many years before this moment, and I had not even been consciously thinking of her as we walked along. I didn’t want to “do” anything, but to sit in the sun on that warm April day in quiet conversation with someone I love. I looked at my daughter and realized that I didn’t want to “do” anything more than just “be” with her as well, walking and talking about nothing and everything. Time is expansive and at the same time curiously limited. Because I sense it will be the small moments of awe, wonder and love that I will remember, I will think of as “keepers” and hold in my heart as the true illustrations in the book of my life. I remember she hugged me right there on the street, and we walked on together more aware of the treasure of that moment and of just being together with no goal or project or task to check off the list.
A Gathering of Spirits is a reader-supported publication.
I don’t know if you’ve also had the modern experience of texting someone to lament the stress of rushing to get to my yin yoga class…so that I can slow down and relax. Then realizing, I can take time to breathe anytime and anywhere. My breath is always as close as my heart and lungs. Feeling like there is not enough time is never opened up by tossing one more ball into the air to be juggled. Time is opened up and expanded from within, by being truly present to this moment and then to the next.
Anyway, I want to affirm your (and my own) creative urges, our desire to live a life of meaning and purpose. But I also want to affirm that meaning and purpose expands from the inside out.
Jung spoke about how the first half of a person’s life is often focused upon “doing” and the question “where do I fit in the world” “what have I built or done that proves my place and value?” But he also spoke about how in the second half of a life the focus often changes, and the question starts to shift from “Where do I fit in the world?” to “How do I fit with my soul?” This is a natural and beautiful shift but can also be quite unsettling, when what used to work doesn’t anymore, and what we used to feel has shifted subtly or in some major way. Culturally we often diminish this spiritual and personal transformation by calling it simple mid-life crisis, empty nester syndrome or retirement anxiety. But this shift is such an important and powerful unfolding part of a meaningful life - it is not encouraged in our culture, but it is a deep calling. The first half of my life was filled with the question, “How do I fit in the world and what must I “do” to be worthy?” The more pressing question now is “How do I fit in the welcoming arms of my own True Self and how does that express in how I “be” with others and myself each mysterious moment of each unfolding day?”
Parker J. Palmer talks about how the soul is shy, that we need to make space for it, give it time and care to be in regular communion and conversation. I think of the deer that are abundant in the woods around my home. Over the 15 years I’ve lived here, they have become used to me and my folk-singer ways. At this point generations of these animal spirits have encountered me walking and have become accustom to hearing me sing to them quietly from the path. If I am open-hearted and patient, if I sing to them in low tones and call them things like “beautiful deer” and “long legged and lovely”, they often stay and do not run away. Last week in the twilight a young doe lifted her soft brown ears and head and took one sweet step forward-toward me. I think the soul is a bit like that deer. When I give my spirit time to “be”, when I encounter it with love and appreciation, when I sing to it and listen to what it may have be waiting to say when I stop rushing to the next thing, it steps toward me, it lifts its head and opens its arms.
Do you have trouble sometimes just “being”? What does the question “How do I fit with my soul” bring up for you? What might your shy soul be waiting to say to you, if you gave it time and a quiet place to speak?
Find a quiet place around your home or outside in the natural world. Breathe deep for 5 or 6 breaths, lengthening your out breath a little as you settle in.
Feel the presence of your own true self. Hum a little tune to your soul and then let your soul hum back to you.
I hope you’ll comment on what these stories, questions or practice brought up for you.
As always, thank you. Going on 75, I’m acutely conscious of the state of my soul - my greatest wish is to bring it into alignment with the love of the universe.