Essays

Dwelling

My mother’s basic prescription for bad feelings–hurt, frustration, disappointment, injured pride–was “Don’t dwell on it.” She practices what she preaches, being a lifetime member of the “Snap-out-of-it-and-get-on-with- it” school of mental health. I admire the ability she shares with other purposeful and effective people to let things go, get on with the gardening, get over herself and go visit the sick or forget her troubles and sing while she cooks the spaghetti. Unfortunately, I missed that gene in the DNA lottery and became instead much more like my brooding father who could sit for hours in a chair not reading the Sunday paper, eyes closed or gazing into middle space, “dwelling on” something. We were often reluctant beneficiaries of these long silences; many dinnertable conversations were dominated by his lengthy musings on how to solve the water problem in India or rid the L.A. basin of smog or, less usefully, how to avoid General Eisenhower’s mistakes and win World War II with fewer lives lost. He rarely dwelt on his own injuries, but did suffer from a curious form of megalomania that convinced him he needed to save the world from its own folly. And so he periodically retreated in monastic disregard of us more worldly lot to ponder the immensity of his task.
I regard the monastic life as one of my many roads not taken; I look down that road with a certain envy from time to time, and realize as I sit frustrated in committee meetings that I foolishly hoped academic life would provide, instead of budget sheets and late book orders, long hours of quiet in filtered sunlight with Gregorian chant in the background. Now and then it does. Now and then the luxury of a long afternoon spent reading, writing, pondering the implications of a line of poetry, imagining a graceful sentence, a new way of putting something old, finding words for something just beyond the reach of language, descends like a gift of grace in the midst of the world that is “too much with us.” I know with what keen pleasure the reclusive Emily must have written, “I dwell in Possibility– / A fairer House than Prose . . . ” And I like her description of what she did for entertainment in that many-windowed dwelling place: “For Occupation– This– / The spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise–“.
The association of “dwelling” with paradise is reinforced repeatedly in the King James Bible where the profoundest comfort offered to wanderers in this world is the hope that they will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” that they will, with the upright, “dwell in his presence,” and not only hereafter, but even now–and not only with the Lord, but in him–in the “secret places of the Most High,” in the “shadow of the Almighty.” (The Psalmist with his audacious way of addressing God on the subject of his covenant, lest he forget his rather forgettable people, reminds him, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” [Ps. 90]. He goes on, on the strength of this reminder, to urge the Lord not to give up on the faithless rabble he’s chosen, but to satisfy them and make them glad and establish the work of their hands. Sometimes the Psalmist seems at home with the Lord in rather the way a slovenly adolescent feels completely justified in expecting to be fed, clothed and housed despite the growing pile of moldering detritus that turns his dwelling place into a den of unwashed laundry.) The prophet Isaiah delivers a gracious answer to the Psalmist’s unabashed plea for the Lord to reward his stumbling people with words that dignify desire and turn memory to hope: “And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isa. 32:18). The words of reassurance deepen in poignancy when one thinks how often and longingly they have been invoked especially by the homeless and oppressed whose last best hope lies in the belief that “this world is not my home.” Brahms offered a similar word of comfort in the very face of death when he began the third movement of his Requiem with a great swelling chorus singing, “How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!”
Dwelling is not just a lovely idea–it’s a lovely word–partly because it is a participle. I love participles for their insistance on being verbs even when they’re made to act like nouns. (When I read “In the beginning was the Word,” I choose to believe that that Word was and is a verb, not a noun, though to satisfy our craven desire for nouns, the Verb consented to appear as a person, place, and thing on a few remarkable occasions.) “Dwelling” is ongoing, like the sound of a bell, and inward turning. The word curls on the tongue even as it suggests curling into a chair before a blazing fire or curling up with a good book in a window seat on a rainy day. Roget in his well-meaning Thesaurus treats it as a noun, and suggests (with shameless lack of poetic imagination) a series of inert alternatives like residence, lodging, or, more abstractly, occupancy. But dwelling, to my mind, suggests much more than the bald fact of staying put, squatting in a particular spot, or the empty inertia of not going anywhere (at home on Saturday night with the TV and newspaper, too tired to go find out where the action is). “Dwelling” has a feel of action in stillness; like Eliot’s recognition that “the still point of the turning world” is the pivot point in a great dance, dwelling seems to be the predicate of all meaningful action–the stillness that contains sound, the emptiness that gives shape to what fills it. The prepositions we attach to it barely modify the encompassing power of its directionless, declarative act of consent and assertion: dwelling on, dwelling with, and dwelling in merge somewhere deep in the psyche where all action evaporates, leaving only a small human echo of the great, rumbling “I am.”
The word “dwelling” brings together several of the activities that make us most human, though we have much to learn about how to dwell trustingly in the world and in the moment from the watchful contentment of beasts and birds. Reading, writing, thinking, praying, meditating, gazing, enjoying, revelling, savoring are all ways of dwelling in, dwelling on, dwelling with. “Get into it, don’t just get through it,” I tell my students as they make their slow way through Moby-Dick. The point really isn’t to find and kill the great white whale so much as to dwell, with the curious and cryptic Ishmael, on the meaning of things–Ahab’s scar, Queequeg’s pagan rituals, the image on a coin’s face, the way a woven mat maps the warp and woof of human destiny. “What word or phrase stops you?” I ask them as we read a Shakespeare sonnet. “Haply I think on thee. . .” one says, whom I know to be in the throes of unrequited eighteen-year-old love. “Beweep,” says another, who likes the word for its antiquity, and we wander into a conversation about the subtle shades of sorrow. “Bootless,” says another. “Why?” I ask, expecting a reflection on futility. “Because I don’t know what it means,” he replies. “A good poem,” I conclude, raising my voice as they unzip their backpacks, “holds you back. It doesn’t want you to finish it. It wants you to dwell in it. A poem,” I add, though their stomachs are growling and their watches have the look of watches that are looked at, “is a dwelling place.” They shuffle out the door. They’re glad to be doing poems. They’re short.
The hardest thing to teach (and practice) in reading is the best part–pausing over and dwelling on. It’s hard because it goes against the grain of everything we are taught about how to live in a fast-paced, goal-oriented culture where the game, the race, and the battle are the dominant metaphors for both work and play. To pause is to be unproductive; to retreat and reflect is to lose both your photo-op and your sound bite. Too bad–you forfeited your fifteen minutes of fame. If I can get students (and myself) to resist the momentum of going onward for the sake of a moment of going inward, I will have my reward. But the insidious perfectionism that makes us want to measure what we learn in pages turned and projects completed makes it more satisfying to tell ourselves (not to mention the admiring crowd), “I survived all 700 pages of Moby-Dick” than to tell them, “I spent three weeks on three chapters in Moby-Dick and let Melville teach me something new about how to see.” It’s hard to put that in a one-liner on your bumper or a button on your backpack.
Getting through to the end is the only kind of completion this culture understands and rewards–with certificates, diplomas, paychecks, and promotions–yet one of the lost meanings of “dwell” is “a slight pause in the motion of a part of a machine to give time for the completion of the operation effected by the particular part” (OED). In this sense, dwelling becomes an integral part of the productivity we value so highly; apparently even machines must have pauses built into them so that what is begun may be completed without the interference of ongoing activity. They must “dwell” or stop awhile to allow something to happen that more activity can’t bring about. Half of a tennis game is waiting for the other guy to hit the ball. Half of the labor in giving birth is the time between contractions. Half of learning is the unsought epiphany that comes when you finally give up trying to pursue your preconceived line of argument and dwell, baffled and bemused, in the problem. Suddenly you hear the question in a new way, get a new angle of vision, and a solution flowers forth from the very words of the problem itself.
These revelations only seem to come in relaxation. Dwelling in (or even on) a problem is the opposite of pursuing a solution. It’s giving the problem time to unveil its less obvious complexities. Often the seeds of a solution are already there when the nature of the problem is understood–the way you suddenly see how the puzzle piece you’ve been holding for the last ten minutes fits into the picture. Those who work with the I Ching as an instrument of discernment know that it is largely in the formulation of the question one brings to the casting of the coins that the answer lies. A friend who walked me through this ancient ritual once had me return again and again to my question until I “got it right.” I’d know when that happened, she assured me; I’d know when it felt like the right question. I had to dwell in the question rather than stepping on it to reach the answer. I did. I played with the question for two hours, rearranging syntax and tense, replacing words, until suddenly the question took a shape I hadn’t anticipated. I hardly needed the reading after that process. The way I had posed the question taught me what I needed to know.
Now I know that questions are lenses that both sharpen vision and serve as mirrors. Reading, looking at a work of art, gazing at the landscape, or at the face of the beloved can open layer after layer of feeling, recognition, wonder, interest, curiosity if we dwell in their possibilities or in the questions they raise, like Blake’s about the “Tyger burning bright”–“What immortal hand or eye / framed thy fearful symmetry?” We know that this discipline of stopping to ponder questions without easy answers is a route to wisdom; a wealth of stories from every culture remind us of the wise ones who have dwelt in mountains and caves, dwelt in cells or a hut by a New England pond, pondering, reflecting, contemplating, until they find themselves on the “wide shores” Keats envisioned, and find, as he did even in the face of death, that fears dissipate and “love and fame to nothingness do sink.”
It’s also useful to know, perhaps, that among the more obscure root words of “dwell” in the Old English are: to be stunned, benumbed, torpid, even stupefied. You can dwell in things too long, it seems, and get stuck. You can zone out when you think you’re meditating. You can turn into a vegetable if you don’t recognize your animal needs for pursuit and predation. At the end of his two-year sojourn, Thoreau left Walden Pond, having, as he realized, “other lives to live.” The creative tension between dwelling in and moving on, pausing and pursuing, enjoying an image and enjoying the plot has to be kept in balance, like the warp and woof of Melville’s matmaker. Sooner or later, contemplation must be tempered by action; as Martha knew, even Mary was eventually going to want a little something to eat, and somebody had to get dinner on the table. But most of us, as the story of Martha and Mary suggests, don’t run the risk of getting lost in contemplation–rather of losing ourselves in getting and spending and laying waste our powers–even, perhaps, in preparing dinner.
My mother’s advice, often delivered in the course of dinner preparation, when we had some of our most memorable conversations, was good common sense: not to dwell on injuries and ills is to live in gratitude and grace. But the habit of dwelling on some things, though it take us through some dark valleys of brooding and even to the brink of obsession, may finally serve to keep us humbly in the presence of mystery and happily in a state of rightminded awe.

From Word Tastings

On living in time — From Weavings:

On dogma and disagreement — from Sojourners

On biblical ambiguity — from Sojourners

ATTENTION, K-MART SHOPPERS
© Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

When was the last time you baked a cake, built a birdhouse, or crafted a Christmas present “from scratch”? Some of us do these things when vacations or weekends afford the leisure, but as a rule, most of us buy. We live in a world of ready-made products, attractively packaged, aggressively marketed and voraciously consumed by a public that has learned to identify itself as “consumers”more commonly than as citizens—a shift that signifies a profound change how we participate in the processes by which we acquire the means of survival, distribute them, and dispose of them.
“Attention, K-Mart Shoppers….” On the rare occasions when I wander haplessly among the shelves of plastic bowls and paper towels, I am struck by the irony of that alert. We “K-mart shoppers” are not, in fact, paying attention. We are, in fact, deeply enmeshed in a political and economic system that relies on and does its best to insure our inattentiveness to process. The only questions we’re encouraged to ask about the products we consume is how much they cost in dollars and what they can add to our comfort, convenience, or sex appeal. But I want to suggest that as people of faith who believe we are stewards and heirs of the world’s resources, we need to bring our consumer habits under close and critical scrutiny. Every time we buy we participate in economic processes that involve exploitation, waste, inequitable access, and resource abuse. Examples of this are companies that hire cheap labor in poorer countries, often disrupting local economies and expropriating local natural resources; over-packaging; agricultural practices that rely on migrant workers who have no legal status and so no access to health care benefits; and water-polluting cleaning products.
This is not to say we shouldn’t receive the gifts of abundance gratefully. But if our abundance rests on carelessness and greed, naïve gratitude is specious. One of the responsibilities that comes with liberal education is to cultivate the habit of asking questions about process. Some companies are more responsible than others. Calpirg and other organizations can provide you with a “report card” on particuclar companies’ hiring practices, environmental policies, production processes, and marketing strategies. Every time we buy, we vote. Every time we buy, we buy into something.
Does that mean I’m delusional enough to think that if I boycott a particular store the management is likely to notice? Of course not. But boycotts and protest letters do work. And if I inform myself about pesticides, for instance, and choose to buy organic food from local farms, I will certainly make a difference to my health and my family’s. Perhaps more importantly, I can gradually alter my spending habits as a spiritual discipline that helps me reflect the mandate to care for creation and especially for the poor.
It’s easy in discussions of this kind to sound self-righteous, so let me acknowledge that by virtue of living in Santa Barbara, driving a car, and buying clothes and household goods, I participate in the inequities that trouble me. A compassionate word about the problems of conscience these issues raise came from Michael Ableman, director of Fairview Gardens, a Goleta organic farm. When he spoke here a student asked, “The forces against alternative choices are so immense, how can any of us do anything meaningful to bring about change?” His answer was, “Just pull out of the system where you can.” I take this to mean ask questions about what you buy, use, and dispose of, about your own processes, and change your practices as you can, without condemning others who are living under the same pressures. We’re “target markets.” We are subject to forces we can’t, individually, control or stop. But we can prayerfully decide how to live in this world but not of it.
I’d like to conclude by offering a few questions you might think of as a “shopping list”—questions to ask before you hit the mall: Where was this item made? What was involved in growing the raw materials, processing them, transporting the finished goods, housing them, and marketing them? Whose labor was involved? Were the laborers fairly paid? Were the raw materials grown in sustainable ways? Are the marketing strategies manipulative? Are there alternative companies and products that can provide what I want or need more responsibly? How do I discern the difference between “need” and “want”? What’s shaping my material desires? How will I know when I get to “enough”? Where do the waste products go—the run-off, the transportation fuels, the packaging? What am I sacrificing in the hours I spend shopping?
This last brings to mind a prophetic couple of lines from Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us, late and soon. / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. . . .” They’re good lines to remember as stewards not only of the world’s resources, but of our own time, money, and energies. We’re not all called to work on the same issues at the same time, but we’re all called to live generously, caringly, with open eyes and open hearts for the creatures of this earth. And to resist, where we can, precisely those forms of temptation we tend not to see because they are so incessant, they feel so “normal.”

IF YOU WANT TO FIND OUT MORE, CHECK OUT THESE SOURCES:
Websites:
•    http://cesc.montreat.edu/ceo/CEA/index.html
•    http://www.webdirectory.com/
•    http://www.envirolink.org/
•    http://www.newamericandream.org/
•    http://www.greenmatters.com/gm/shared/products/greenproducts.html
•    http://store.globalexchange.org
•    http://www.greenpages.org
•    http://www.gaiam.com/retail/gai_shopHome.asp
•    http://www.realgoods.com/
Magazines:
•    The Utne Reader
•    The Progressive
•    The Christian Century
•    Alternatives for Simple Living
Books:
•    Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, by John C. Ryan
•    Fast-Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
•    Culture Jam by Kalle Lassn
•    Diet for a New America by John Robbins
•    The $100 Christmas by Bill McKibben

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THE SIN OF ABSTRACTION
© Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

I’ve been in one too many discussions of “just war theory” recently. Though I realize there are thoughtful arguments for the justice of certain kinds of warfare waged, say, to protect a vulnerable population from immediate threat, I am troubled by the appeasement conscience such discussions can sometimes achieve without too much anguish over what, exactly, we talk about when we talk about war. Just recently I took part in such a discussion; the justifications for bombing Hiroshima were once again rehearsed without specific description of or even reference to what that bomb did to the skin and eyes and muscle tissue of women walking to market or children in schoolrooms. Or of the disfigurements and disease the blast left in its wide wake.
Our duty to be people who care sometimes trumps even the commitment to well-reasoned arguments. Abstractions are a dangerous refuge, especially for those of us who have been carefully trained, and for good enough reasons, to value the capacity for abstract thinking. One of the occupational hazards of academics is the possibility of becoming so accustomed to “critical” or “aesthetic” distance required for analysis, that we may unthinkingly use that distance as a zone of safety to retreat to when it’s too painful to feel what we’re thinking about.
Most of the academics I know, I hasten to say, are deeply compassionate people. But when we gather in programmed discussions meant to be “educational” and “civil,” a certain flight from feeling can begin to happen. The other day, in a conversation about torture (”In time of war, what are the justifications for torture?” “Who should define what exactly constitutes torture?”) with people who, bless their hearts, gave up free time to engage in it, my mind kept turning not only to the indelible horrors of the Abu Ghraib pictures, but also to the soft voice of a nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz, who I heard tell her story of being raped and burned with cigarettes and threatened with death and flung naked into a cell by a soldier “who spoke with an American accent.”
“Torture” itself is an abstract word. I wish that every time we use it, we would make ourselves pause to specify exactly what it involves, so the imagination would be required to follow where the intellect rather too presumptuously treads. “Torture”–you know, pulling a hood onto your head, tying it there with a rope, forcing your head underwater and keeping you there till your lungs are burning and you think you’re going to drown, then yanking it out and assuring you the process will be repeated. Oh, wait. That’s not torture; that’s a permissible “interrogation technique.”
I am thankful that thus far I have lived in safety and privilege, though that thanks has to rest upon a confession of what that privilege and safety have cost those at whose expense it is maintained (American troops, for instance–and also the many who labor in poverty to sustain our North American “way of life”). Still, as a simple act of solidarity with those who suffer what I can barely imagine, I can at least consent to imagine. I can accept the responsibility at least to name their suffering, witness it, bear witness to it, and take some practical action on their behalf. Write a congressperson. Boycott participants’ companies or media empires. Protest manipulated news.
Otherwise “Torture” will come to lie quietly in the growing lexicon of euphemisms we live by, along with “collateral damage” and “smart bombs” and “enemy aliens.” And “just war.”
(published in Torture Is a Moral Issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and People of Conscience Speak Out, George Hunsinger, ed. Eerdmans, 2008)

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ALTERNATIVES TO ORGANIZATION
© Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
I’m not proud of the fact that I own “Dayrunner” calendars in three different sizes. Or that I make surreptitious detours to the handbag section of department stores in search of the ultimate portable storage system that will make it impossible to end the week with a random pile of receipts, post-it notes, memos, and phone numbers mingling like compost at the bottom of my canvas caryall. I get delusional in my quest for order. It’s a kind of affliction–one manifestation of the great American psychopathology–the idea that the good life can be achieved with the right merchandise. In my wiser moments I know I have two practical choices: organize or simplify. And these are not only practical, but psychological and spiritual choices.
Thoreau understood the spiritual tradeoffs involved in material abundance, widening networks of commerce and advancing technology. So he moved to the woods, planted beans, built a cabin, and wrote Walden in which he preached simplicity and celebrated the joys of solitude. He watched the railroad advancing westward from Boston and foresaw the way we live now. It often looks something like T.S. Eliot’s description of urban life after World War I: “Only a flicker / Over the strained time-ridden faces / Distracted from distraction by distraction . . . / Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind . . . .”
One of the pleasures of teaching literature to college students is the opportunity my work provides to stay in conversation with the wise, the articulate, and the amused–with people who have learned something about life, reflected on what they’ve learned, and written about it for the rest of us. One of the drawbacks of teaching, however, is the obligation my work entails to spend evenings poring over freshman prose, to field elaborate excuses for late papers, and to sit on “standing” committees whose work seems to be to deliberate, evaluate, discuss, ponder, muse, and eventually table a good deal of business. The pressures of academic life, I find, are often misperceived by corporate 9-to-5 folk. They seem sometimes to imagine life in the “ivory tower” as a leisurely series of desultory conversations with earnest students carried on in decorous classrooms and quiet offices where afternoon sunlight falls gently on shelves of leather-bound volumes, on a bust of Plato, and on a desk where a manuscript in progress lies open as the professor leans back in a leather chair musing on the ethics of Socrates’ speech to the court of Athens. How often I hear (and am annoyed by) remarks by the more gainfully employed to the effect that it must be great having such long summer “vacations,” or, worse, “only” having to teach three courses a semester. I am tempted to quote in response the maxim that professors are generally either overpaid or underpaid. I know a few of the former kind. I know many of the latter.
College teaching is a kind of work that expands to the limits of 1) one’s devotion; 2) one’s energy; 3) one’s intellectual appetites; 4) one’s love of youth; and 5) one’s guilt. There’s always more to do. There’s little supervision, and no one to say “It’s five o’clock, time to quit.” If one attempted to rise to the level of students’ expectations, the work would (and does) involve not only classroom instruction, but instant replays of missed lectures, attendance at soccer games and vocal recitals, convivial lunches in the dining commons, late-night fireside chats in the dorms, individual recommendation letters to the fifteen graduate programs to which a given student is applying, extra coaching for GRE’s and comprehensive exams, and recurrent advising sessions not only on matters of course selection, but on what to do about 1) mid-semester depression; 2) the disappointments of young love; 3) parents; 4) life; and 5) a printer that won’t work. Not all students are needy. Many are happily independent, interested, and on time (or, as they used to say at my alma mater, “eager, thoughtful, and reverent”). But the odds are that any given day will bring two or three dozen requests for attention from innocents who know not how long the list is to which they are adding one more line item.
The list consists, of course, not only–not even mainly–of students’ needs. The curriculum committee is meeting at 3:00 and begins with approval of minutes of the last meeting which I have not yet written. A textbook publisher wants to know if I will review their new anthology. I am reminded by e-mail that the article I’ve been trying to finish for the past week was due yesterday. The secretary has left me a stack of invoices with a post-it attached inquiring when she should meet with me about the department budget. Our fifteen-year-old needs a ride to her dance class and from thence to a play rehearsal. Sears wants to know when someone will be home so they can install the dishwasher. We’ve signed up to entertain visiting trustees on Friday night, for which event I have not yet cracked open a cookbook. We have no coffee for breakfast if I don’t make a Starbucks run on the way home. And I really do need to reread parts of Moby-Dick.
But I am learning that if I attend to all these things I “have to” do and neglect the things I most want to do, it’s a recipe for exhaustion and depression–at which point I’m no good to anyone. I want to spend a half hour swimming. I want to sit down before dinner and check in with my husband over a glass of wine. I want to walk with him and our dog on the beach. I want to spend a little quiet time in prayer and meditation. I want to practice yoga, write in my long-neglected journal, curl up with the phone and chat with a distant daughter, play the piano, write a poem, or even a little essay–like the one I’m stealing time to write even as we speak.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking better organization is the answer. Hence the occasional foolish extravagance of a new Dayrunner, software package, or portable file. It’s perilously easy to fall into the more insidious trap of thinking more sophisticated technology will reduce the consequences of overcommitment. But though I fall prey to these illusions periodically, I don’t really live by them any more. I have come at great length and at great cost to believe that a peaceful, balanced, satsifying life in the midst of the madness of American culture can only be lived by paradox. The wisest, responses to institutional and social pressures are three counterintuitive bits of advice distilled from conversations with those I have recognized and adopted as my own role models–older women who can afford to be amused, writers and recluses who dare to say no to the seductions of “culture” and even to kind invitations, busy people who seem less burdened because they walk, pray, and play a little every day. No matter what. These pieces of advice are lifelines:
1) When you’re in a hurry, stop. For a whole minute. Shut the door and breathe deeply. Let go of what you’re clutching at; literally open your palms to receive energy and grace. Remember Ambrose Bierce’s cynical but oddly practical observation, “Few things matter very much and most things don’t matter at all.” Especially institutional drivel. Give yourself merciful permission to cut a corner, be five minutes late, leave something till tomorrow. Recite a short list of what matters most and put those things back in the center.
2) Attend to the call of the moment. The idea of “vocation” or “call” is a spiritual idea that serves me as well in thinking about the moment at hand as in thinking more largely about how to use my life. To discern what one is really “called” to do in response to any of the multiple demands a day brings involves some test questions: What is really being asked of me here? Is it appropriate? Is it proportionate? Is it important enough to lay aside other obligations? Can I respond out of peace and interest with real assent, or would my “yes” come out of guilt or fear of disapproval? If the demand passes those tests, it deserves my complete attention, not for five distracted, preoccupied minutes, but for five whole, undivided minutes.
3) “Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.” This is one of many useful admonishments in Wendell Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” which I reread often and recommend highly to the busy, the distracted, and the dutiful. Real laughter that starts in the belly and comes through the heart requires a healthy distance on the preoccupations of the present moment. The wisest people I know have these things in common: they’re compassionate, they can keep their peace, they can keep their own counsel, and they laugh.
These practices, I think, don’t depend on organization. They depend on giving oneself liberal permission to stay tuned to what’s up, what’s needed, where the surprises are. When I manage to remember them, the day is more like a dance than a march; priorities keep rearranging themselves, plans get reframed, and life leaves room for the unexpected. Some things don’t get done. Others get postponed. But, more often than not, what matters gets attended to.