On Saturday we did a one-day retreat. A small group of us sat together. I gave a talk. We ate lunch and rested (it was raining outside). I met folks face-to-face in the afternoon and sat some more. At the end of the day, we shared thoughts and feelings, mostly gratitude, cleaned up, and left.
It was a day of ease.
For a change, I let life come to me rather than going after it, my head craning forward like a turtle’s as it emerges from its shell, aimed relentlessly forward. No wonder I slump. But less so now because I’m more at ease.
Usually, I’m propelled to move forward by events and deadlines: time to feed the dogs, go down to the cellar to check on the dehumidifier, do emails, call this person or that, go to pick up the car from the garage. It’s led to the habit of being in constant motion, and getting suspicious when I’m not. I, who have sat still in Zen meditation for so many years, am conditioned to move, look around, sniff the air, look for what’s the next thing and the next thing, and the next after that.
Recently I read an article about why people, middle-aged and older, always feel younger. 20% younger, as a matter of fact, scientific studies have shown. At the end of the article, I closed my eyes and thought: I don’t feel 20% younger than I am, I feel my age. Not because my body hurts or I have a serious illness, I enjoy very good health, but because my mind feels older.
I don’t rush to judgment as I used to, I don’t rush to gratuitous, harmful emotions, I speak thoughtlessly much less than before, and even as I look at and listen to life around me with curiosity and gladness, I feel quiet and still inside.
None of this was true for me 20% of my age earlier; I have no nostalgia for the young years when I blew off my mouth without thinking, snapped at people, judged them harshly, and obsessed about myself. I deeply appreciate the contrast and am glad for a settled mind and a lighter heart.
Time is loosening up, bringing me a revelation: There is something like ease. There are moments (hours?) when the perpetual restlessness and its accompanying anxiety are no longer there, when you no longer need to hop up on the stage to make sure you’re part of the action or peer around the curtains to see what’s hidden. I can sit back and let life come to me.
Some scenes will beckon, others won’t, and it won’t matter because I won’t be at the center of it and will certainly have very little control. I give up those delusions in exchange—for what? Ease. No hurry to get somewhere. No fluttering question: What’s next? No inclination to clutter up the space and time of my life. Instead, I’ll have ease.
And ease ain’t easy for this woman with the forward-slumping shoulders and the perpetual urge to check her calendar and to-do list. It’s why I love our monthly, simple one-day retreats. They make up a formal invitation to enjoy ease. No computer, no phone. Who else but me needs a structure for ease?
I watch Aussie lying on the top step behind my office, soaking up the afternoon shade. She’ll jump up and bark if people or animals appear on the road above the house; otherwise, she’s at ease. She trusts the world to come to her: squirrels, birds, a car, Henry, supper. The couple that lives two houses down is walking on the road and she barks, but the last bark fades into a question mark, as if she thinks: I know these guys, I plunder their compost all the time, so why bark?
I look at the snow melting and receding. Its life is ending slowly for this season, but there’s no grabbing or clutching, no last wishes. Even dying, the snow is at ease.
Ease is a gift that’s always been there, but for much of my life I couldn’t locate it. Like all life’s great gifts,–love, joy, and creativity–it’s always right in front of me. I don’t need more ease, just to fit my body into it like I do into Bernie’s navy Greyston jacket that’s still hanging in the closet. It’s been hanging there for a long time and it always felt big on me.
Less so now.
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