the tao of idleness

Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a
little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from
one boot to another – why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,
I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.
 – Mary Oliver


Today has been a test.  It has given me an opportunity to determine how well I have learned the wisdom of relaxing into idleness when this illness in my body demands rest.  I could tell it was a test by the added element of family being near whom I want to be with and feel well with.  I noticed my growing unhappiness as the weekend progressed. I rarely see one daughter, I worry the other daughter needs me right now and I don’t know if I am able to be all she needs, and my oldest grandson is here after being gone for 3 long years.  I noticed how I was feeling guilty for being sick at a time like this.  So it has been more challenging to keep myself in this moment and not be restless or regretful or resentful.

Tests are such gifts.  They point out the weak spots, the trip-wires.  The mind is tricky and will sneak off to run those old circuits without my diligence.  When I am in distress, I struggle with being unable physically to walk, get out in nature, or do yoga.  And sitting in meditation is difficult with the queasiness, pain, and general malaise.  So I can’t rely on practices that center and calm me, drawing me back to the moment.   And conversation is hard.  Just being with others is hard.  But being alone doesn’t offer the usual comforts, either.   Attempts to be in the body are thwarted by pain.  When I get too far along this path, with my whole body tight and breathing shallow, I begin to swim in a sea of melancholy and suffering.  With my usual practices unavailable,  only one help remains.  The breath.   Returning to the breath, again and again.  It becomes my last refuge.  Eventually, I regain an awareness of the resistance I am putting up, angry at the pain and sickness, resisting what is.  When I am able to see where my thoughts have been running, I remember that I hold the key to turning my thoughts down more successful paths.  I can send them down the newer neural pathway, the one where I stop resisting and rest in what is.  The one where I let go and just be a friend to my body.  A friend to the parts of me that run haywire, both in my gut and in my brain.

I once saw the difference between pain and suffering pictured as the placement of a stray hair. Pain is like a hair on your palm, suffering like a hair in your eye.  There will be pain.  It need not be suffering.  I know this to be true.  It’s a process of rewiring the brain.  I love the plasticity of the brain.  It makes me happy to remember that thoughts are not reality.  It is a joy when awareness comes to the way my thoughts are running so that I can redirect them and build and reinforce new paths for the neurons, until the new paths are deeply grooved and the old ones have withered and died.

I know I am rambling.  I don’t usually try to write during these times of distress.  But I needed to remind myself of these things, apparently.  The reminding has deepened and slowed my breathing, loosened my shoulders and jaw and brought me rest.  I feel such gratitude for this wonderful process.