When I don’t have to do anything, what do I do? I don’t mean for an hour or a day. I mean for months, 3 months to be exact.
Most of us can’t or would never ask that question. I’ve been a perfect example! Each week I wrote my intentions on seven sheets of copier paper stapled together with much the same repeated, (ie…meditate, take vitamins, get exercise, etc.), plus work responsibilities, chores, social engagements, etc. There was one sheet for every day of the week and very little white space. I’ve probably been more compulsive and hard core than most but I suspect most of us that pride ourselves on being “responsible” have some sort of a system to stay organized and focused. I woke knowing what the ‘plan’ was for that day and credited this list writing ritual for being a successful doer. Maybe you are similar, we get shit done!
At the beginning of my 61st year, having just lost my Mother in December, “getting shit done” wasn’t making sense anymore. “I can get through this” rang hollow. My lists felt tiring and the daily details of corporate life felt as if they were taking so much mind power, there was no room for heart, the main source of my joy and meaning. I reflected on David Whyte’s question to a dear friend when he felt at a similar place in his life and work “What do you do for exhaustion?” and his friend’s wise counsel “the antidote for exhaustion, David, is not rest but wholeheartedness”.
A spiritual presence I’ve always known began to demand more quiet and stillness. Some would call that presence God, I mostly call it Spirit. Since I didn’t grow up with Christianity, names aren’t as important to me as what they can’t touch. In my household of 5 daughters and a single Mom, art and nature were our only 2 religions so I seldom heard the names. I was very happy as a child getting lost in writing poetry, disappearing into singing along with musical albums and being in nature. I had a direct relationship with Spirit and access to this magical timelessness through creative expression. There were no lists, no “have to’s”. Life was wonder full.
In the growing stillness deeper questions began to surface. This one demanded a clear answer, “what do you WANT to do? You have fewer years left than you’ve already lived, how do you feel drawn to be in service, what would make this next chapter wonder full?”
Here’s where the doing has served me well. When I’ve put it into the service of innate love and creativity, the guidance comes through Spirit and soulful manifestations are the result. And it’s quite beautiful. No, actually, it’s extraordinary. That’s what happened when I bought a piece of land in Mexico in 2003. Three years ago I built this beautiful villa overlooking two bays and an infinite view of ocean with my dear friend, Matthew Haines. My soul craves living on water. I didn’t know how or when but I saw myself precisely where I am this morning more than 20 years ago, sitting in bed, surrounded by water, writing.
So the day after I quit my corporate job of 25 years, I came here to Sayulita, Mexico, to the villa, Villa Poema de Amor, Villa Love Poem, with my dog, Tenzing. I booked our return flight for exactly 3 months later than our arrival. I came to rest, re-imagine my life and rediscover what makes it wonder full. Being surrounded by this much beauty is transformative and each detail of the villa represents a memory made along the way of this dream coming true. Like the early days of digging out the foundation with our Mexican crew and their bewilderment at this gringo girl dripping with sweat, pushing wheelbarrows of dirt up the hill. When I stand in the garden I can hear our laughter and the poems they shared with me in Spanish after a hard day of work and a few ice cold beers! Everything is about relationships.
“Retirement” is a word I’ve not related to. I KNOW what this time is for me. It’s about “rebooting” the system, clearing off the “desktop”, making room for a few new folders labeled in ways I’ve not yet discovered. A focused lifestyle has kept some of my gifts in dimly lit corners and I’m curious to know what that could mean with more light.
This is the reason most of us are fearful of retiring or of making big changes in our lives. It puts us smack in the middle of the unknown. It made me anxious too. We like our desktops full. We like to know what’s going to happen…or at least think we do! We dread not having a plan. It can make us feel “flaky”, vulnerable, lost and out of control. We’ve also become a culture that is so bonded with technology, our mobile devices, and our social media connections that we never still our minds. We never allow that quiet void that could bring up anything…and does.
So if I don’t have to do anything, what do I do? I’ve decided to replace that word ‘do’ with ‘love’. If I don’t have to love anything, what do I love? And I let that question be answered moment by moment measured by peacefulness, inspiration, creativity, soft heartedness, deep connection with myself and others, and joy. I notice how dichotomy is still innate, how I run hard to the other side of town for a yin yoga class, how I laugh loud and adore silence, how I couldn’t live without connection and spend some days completely alone, how grief ends up being gratitude when I let the choreography simply unfold on its own time. My life has always had big range and an ongoing theme of identifying the ever changing balance.
Has there been anything that has surprised me so far about this time? Maybe the simplicity or the elegance of the way things DO come together, the way people come together, and the way a day comes together, without a list, without a plan. My attention is shifting from having my own direction to receiving it and I am enjoying being a follower. I am delighted by the spontaneity. Experiences tend to be better than I could have set out to accomplish.
At the end of each day, I write on a small slip of paper my favorite moment or experience that day that made time disappear, that felt full of God. I fold the paper and slip it into a plastic carafe labeled “Happiness Jar”. I think it might be fun at the end of this time to read them aloud to a dear friend when she asks “what was it like?” And if I ever forget how simple the most important moments are in a day, I could read any one of these small scraps like this …
Running with Tenzing through the village this afternoon and the two little Mexican boys with big brown eyes, out of breath, trying to keep up with us, laughing uncontrollably and yelling in Spanish, “correr grande pero, correr grande pero!” (run big dog) Contagious joy.
This morning is cloudy and there’s a small ray of sunshine lighting up a deserted beach across the bay. It can be overcast on the inside some mornings too. I wake to the feeling that a storm must have blown through my dreams during the night and left a tangling of broken branches. I don’t ask anymore why it’s not sunny or calmer. Weather comes through. It changes. But this love affair with the ocean never does. It gives me faith in nature, my own included. A line in a poem I wrote a couple of years ago in Mendocino comes to mind…”There is no foreplay like the sea”.
What will I love today? I don’t know yet but I know I love this moment. I know I feel immensely grateful for this time. And I know that ‘not knowing’ is under rated!