Slowing Down - Sometimes, you’ve just gotta stop the traffic
Port Elgin is a "beach town" in Ontario, on Lake Huron, and is a zoo, traffic wise, during the summer. My office was across the four lanes of the main drag from my favourite restaurant. Many times I’ve waited for the traffic to clear so I could dodge through the breaks in traffic and get to the other side. There are always cars, and they are always moving.
Imagine my surprise, then, this particular afternoon. Take-out lunch in hand, I approached the street, and there, in the right hand traffic lane was a car, parked. Inside, I could see an elderly couple, talking and gesturing. Behind them, lined up in a row, were 10 more cars. All were stopped, and all was silent.
Just as I got there, the little old man stepped out of the stopped car, map in hand. He ambled back to the car behind him. The driver of the second car rolled down his window, and the two began to look at the map, talking and gesturing.
I took the opportunity to cross the street.
I looked back. The old man returned to his car, got in, buckled up and resumed driving. The rest of the cars filed along. Now, during this whole thing, which took maybe 2 minutes, not one horn was blown, and none of the people in the line pulled out around the parked car. (We could assume this was because this is Canada as opposed to the kingdom to the south of us, but I have heard the occasional horn in similar situations.) I thought,
- either this guy needed information really bad,
- he’s the leader of the parade, or
- all of this was planned for me to see and is yet another celestial joke.
I’m opting for options 3 or 1.
This story reminded me of another story:
In 1992, we bought a dog. (Her name, by the way, was Nishka. Her name is short for "Nishkamakarma," which is Hindu for, "Do your duty, with faith in God, without attachment to the result of your action." I have a poster of this word hanging in my office.) But I digress.
Nishka spent the Winter of ’92 doing what dogs in Canada do. She pooped on the snow. It melted in and got covered over with more snow.
Come Spring, I went out to our backyard in my duck boots, with shovel in hand. I wandered around, and was amazed at the twigs, branches, paper, wrappers and poop that seemed to be everywhere. In fact, I calculated that our four month winters are composed of 120 days. That means between 120 and 240 piles of poop. What a concept.
But while thinking of this, I was looking around.
As I looked closer, poking out of the grass was a riot of little, purple violets. I was transfixed, even as I picked up the poop.
Life may provide us with poop to shovel, but if we choose to look around, there is also beauty, order and wonder all around. As any farmer will tell you, what’s poop to one person is fertilizer to another.
Leaving aside the question of whom, exactly, would name their dog "Nishkamakarma" what both of the above stories indicate, for me, is the incredible amount of "data" that’s floating around us all the time. If we notice.
Now, I suppose we do notice the stuff we judge to be negative. The looks, the words, the gestures we set ourselves off over.
But what about the positive messages, the messages that seem to be designed to help us figure ourselves out?
As I thought about the little old guy climbing out of his car in traffic, I was drawn to a message about my life. Many are the times when I need to stop, to slow down, to go to the people I trust, to ask for direction, for clarity. I tend to put that off until I’m so tired I have to do something.
Too often, the lure of "the world" is to go faster, to do more, to rise to the top quickly. Yet, after 25 years of counselling all kinds of people, I’ve never met anyone who says,
"And all of that dashing and pushing and rushing
got me a meaningful life. "
No, instead I hear tales of a vague disquiet and I hear expressions of meaninglessness or purposelessness.
When our meaning comes from what we do or what we have,
instead of from who we are, we are bound to hit a wall.
Better, I think, to find a mentor or therapist to reach out to
(or to your partner or to a really good friend) and take the time
(say, the rest of your life . . . )
to begin to plumb the heights and depths of whom you are.
In the end, we are given an unknown "length of days" in which to find ourselves. Being endlessly lost in "your wounded inner child" or what you think your parents did to you, or your partner did, or how hard done by you are, simply leads to more of the same.
Beyond all of the "stuff" that happened to each of us is the truth of our self. The point for our existence. But we can’t get there if we’re constantly looking outside for who we are inside.
I’ll leave you this week with a little free verse poem I wrote to a 16 year old client.
There Will be Days
There will be days
When the sun seems so bright that it hurts.
When you see a smile and you lift your spirit, and your spirit soars.
When the path is ablaze with flowers and scents and you remember to touch your soul.
When a word sends you deeply into yourself, and you like what you find.
When a song explodes in colours only you can see.
When a touch tells you that you are loved, held, valued, befriended.
There will be days
When the sun seems hidden and there is a cold chill to everything.
When smiles seem hollow and even breath seems foreign.
When the path is littered with boulders, brambles, pot-holes.
When a word seems to cut, to burrow, to hurt.
When a song leads to sadness and despair.
When a touch alienates, divides, seeks its own end.
There will be days.
How, then, do we live?
Whether the sun is brilliant or hidden, there is the light of your heart.
Whether the world smiles or cries, there is profound peace in your soul.
Whether the path is clear or a mine-field, there is the joy of the walk.
Whether a word is meant to heal or hurt, you may choose to simply understand.
Whether the song is sweet or sad, the song enlivens your mind.
Whether the touch be loving or not, nothing can embrace your soul without your permission.
You are a bright, white light.
You are confused and scared.
You bring gifts of joy and insight.
You feel powerless.
You occasionally remember who you are.
You find it hard to trust.
You choose to live in the moment.
Life seems too complicated to go on living.
You are whole, alive and gifted.
Walk a little further.
Walk with those you trust.
Be kind to yourself.
Ask for what you need.
Be open to change.
Be open to tears, to laughter, to life, to breath.
Remind yourself to trust yourself.
Remember, the world changes when you do.
Be loving and walk gently.
See with the eyes of your soul.
Make music with your life.
Look for God, inside.
There will be days.
Many, many days.
Make a difference.
Be at peace.
There will be days.