No Excuses

Finding Restfulness in the Midst of Restlessness

Holy Week – April

It took a $38.20 charge to my PayPal account to jolt me out of my isolated lethargy of the past several weeks. I assumed WordPress would charge me for next year’s subscription close to the date it would renew, not the month before. Alas, I am in no mood to fight. 

“Perhaps,” my lazy gadfly whispers, “this might be a sign for you to whack through the weeds of your creative intentions, face your pandemic of doubt, and channel your blighted energy into your unmanicured fingertips where they meet the keyboard.”

“Yeah, whatever,” I mumble (nowadays, talking to oneself is survival, not a sign of dementia). “I’m back to my blog because I hate wasting money!”

I have no excuse. I have recently discovered that 24 hours is plenty of time in a day. For years, I have been able to safely dream outside my cone of reality knowing that I would probably “never have time” to do those things I always said I would do “if I had the time.” There were always good reasons for my procrastination like raising a child, building a career, planting flowers in the spring, and pulling weeds in the summer. It’s so much easier to plan than to do.

But here I am.

I was just getting used to semi-retirement and a recent move to the eastern seaboard when the Coronavirus seeped into every area of our world’s semblance of order. I had spent the past few months searching and exploring everything from restaurants, coffee bars, and nail salons to museums and national monuments. Where I had been able to stay busy with the mechanics of settling into a new environment, I, like so many of us, now have hours and hours to fill as I experiment with the new vocabulary of isolation and social distancing. What an opportunity, right?

I will give myself some credit. I am dabbling with – not necessarily embracing – the loftier goals of my “when I have time” ventures. I signed up for an online class focused on spirituality and prayer. I bought a new journal. I ordered a few books written by authors who kept journals. I logged into a yoga channel on YouTube. I bought six skeins of yarn. I started two writing projects. I began to track my daily Weight Watchers points.

So far, I have had some success. I follow a pretty regular morning yoga ritual. I prepare healthy meals for my husband and me. And, my obsession with knitting has inspired shock and awe among my family. My mother’s unsuccessful attempts to seed my crafting abilities took more than 40 years to germinate…but now, I am out of control. To date (since October), I have knitted three scarves, a baby blanket, six hats, three potholders, and am currently more than 60 rows into an afghan!

I am challenging myself to write, but I must admit that I suffer nagging and existential doubts that test the waters of evolving authorship. On positive days, I tell myself it doesn’t matter if anyone ever wants to read my stories; on negative days, I stop writing. 

I am exploring my religion. I have always tried to honor Church with sincerity and devotion. As I enter this stage of my older life, I find myself searching for ways that lead me beyond the rituals of my faith – which I deeply revere – and into a more contemplative place where my rational self doesn’t always have to get in the way. When I signed up for the online class on centering prayer, my intentions were well positioned, but I admit that I was probably looking for a template that would give me all the tools, provide the instruction, and then quiz me on my success. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way. As I diligently persisted through the modules facilitated by the late Father Thomas Keating, I also read one of the books that has been on my someday list for years – Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. I was inspired by Merton’s journey but naively caught myself wondering how anyone other than a Trappist monk could ever have the time and space to live such a full life, study the great religious doctors, and then ultimately find a certain freedom in literally letting much of it go. For me, when I try to sit for even 20 minutes and focus on not focusing, I begin to itch – literally and figuratively.  Perhaps that is what the centering prayer is all about – discovering those things in our lives that make us “itch” and then turning those irritants over to God. I’m trying.

Another book I am reading is called The Naked Now by Franciscan friar and contemporary author, Richard Rohr. If I am interpreting correctly, the ability to truly wake up spiritually is to let go of pre-conceived notions of how we view the world. There doesn’t always have to be a right way or a wrong way in prayer or politics or all those other big ideas that bog us down (what Rohr calls dualistic thinking). I mean really, if this virus is teaching us anything, it is to let go of almost everything except the common relational bond we have with each other to simply survive.

“Contemplation,” Rohr writes, “is an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see the other hidden material.” This makes sense to me. Right now, I believe I am discovering a purpose in the exercise…much like I do in working through a mindful pose in yoga, losing hours in the creative practice of writing, or mindlessly stitching the patterns of a knitting project. In the process, I am unearthing some of the hidden material in my life and starting to feel a little more restful even in the midst of my restlessness.

I also feel justified in accidentally marking the auto-renewal box of my WordPress subscription.  Here’s to more than a penny for my thoughts – $38.20 to be exact!