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A Ramble on Busy-ness and Inner Peace

January 24, 2015

I woke up thinking about a question I got last night and wishing I hadn’t floundered around with my answer. I wondered why I was so awkward with my reply, when, in my heart, it’s not a sticky question for me. At all.

The question is–and it came following a couple of hours of hearing about everyone else’s challenging work projects and promotions–“what is keeping you busy these days?” Not a snide question. Just giving me the floor for awhile.

My answer, in the quiet of the early morning, is, “working hard to try and get unbusy.” And then I might have shared the things I’m doing and enjoying. My total goal these days is to be not busy, I want to be focused. I want clarity. I want to do the things I love and I want to do them well. I want to love the things I do. I want to choose them and focus on them and love them. And I want space around me so I can truly see those things, and appreciate them, and enjoy them. Every minute. I want to love and show up to every minute. With intention, with presence.

That is what keeps me busy. Getting to that place.

But last night, that was not my answer. Instead there was an awkward pause. Then, scrambling to fill that awkward pause (as I have learned to do because I’m socially adept), I said that the most fun thing I was working on was daily blogging. I write about my and my family’s life.

I got a couple of polite, “oh, that’s wonderful!”s. I then added, a bit pathetically, “and I take pictures every day.”

Um.

(I got to thinking this morning: really? Is that the most fun thing I’m working on? My most fun thing is writing about what I did? Not doing what I did? Wait, how can that be good? It was a desperation answer, I realize, though some of that is true. But I’ll come back to that, though maybe not directly in this post.)

Clearly, I was trying to give some validity to what I do.. raise it to the apple level, so as to be comparable to the other apples at the table. Around that table, we were all educated, professional, coastal types who listen to Science Friday on NPR (and about which we had a great conversation). I have to make sure my busy pursuits are commensurate with those others shared around the table. So, you know, I shared that I write and that it’s a placeholder for future, real writing. Then I said how I do all this other writing for other people, and freelance editing (emphasis on free, as Jim pointed out). Surely that makes me legitimate and smart.

I usta be a contenda? Is that what we’re talking about here?  Are we feeling small and silly and inconsequential?

No. I am not. I like this place. I am honing it to perfection. (Well, yes, that’s another issue, but we’ll get back to that one, too.)

So why the little mad dance to sound relevant?

I dunno. Habit, I guess.

Ya know, part of the reward and beauty of retirement is the fact that it comes after a lifetime of working hard. Check. Yes I did that, I worked hard and grew in a professional position and reached a place of professional satisfaction and due acclaim. Retirement is earned and it is sweet.

Another part of retirement, a lesser part and, for some, not even a relevant part, is that retirement is something you choose. This is only partially true for me. I didn’t quite orchestrate retirement from my beloved organization, so much as it became the best option for all concerned (including me). So retirement happened. It is true that I then set up a thriving post-executive work life, including forays into editing and writing (which sparked a huge passion in me and which I pursue these days with bumbling enthusiasm), and a successful consultancy. And it is true I chose absolutely to retire from that consultancy, for all the right reasons. But it still feels, sometimes, like my not working anymore is a consolation prize and something I have to explain or feel apologetic about because it ended with a whimper instead of a bang. Would that my work life ended with a huge, public going away party full of recognition for a career well served, with due accolades and plaques and stuff like that. Then maybe retirement would feel different.

But I’m mostly past that. At least in my head. It is definitely a sore spot, but what the hell? Life’s full of sore spots and a huge part of life is about how we move on from those. The years after leaving my job was a time full of grieving, questioning, second guessing, overthinking. I gave it its due obsession, and then some. Enough. Besides, that was then (eight and half years ago, I might add), and this is now. I can truly, mostly, say I’ve moved on and am focusing on present sweetnesses. Of which there are lots.

I don’t blame our very nice friend last night for her question. Not at all. How are you keeping busy? is a totally socially acceptable, if standard, opening volley. And good lord, she is deeply embedded in the highest echelons of professional life, where busy-ness just is. It’s not even a bad word, like I’ve come to see busy-ness. (And that is also another post for another time–the fallacy, the delusion, of busy-ness.)

I have huge respect for Trish. I could listen to her talk all night because I love her intelligence and warmth and, truly, her perspective on the world. I also have to add here that she gets up daily at 4:30 in order to have time for exercise (she’s a competitive race walker and former ballerina), and time to quietly read the paper over coffee, and time to get to work by 7. And she still volunteers for numerous organizations and causes, socializes a lot, and sees family all over the country. She’s also old, well past most people’s retirement age, and just took a new, higher level job–in the dean-of-a-major-educational-institution-category–committing to many more years of working. Hats off! Really. She’s amazing. And driven. And totally thrilled. And I’m thrilled for her.

But all that could make me crazy. Could maybe do it, could maybe thrive, could maybe enjoy and maybe even rock. But.

More importantly, that’s not my chosen way of living. Not anymore. Emphasis on chosen. (Chosen now, anyway.)

It wasn’t exactly chosen then, but now it totally is. Okay, will take that. Without stickiness, without apology. So I should be able to answer the question better!  Not so much floundering next time, babe. ‘k?

So I was thinking about all that this morning. Then I read Anne Lamott. Always a great read. Here are some excerpts from her musings this morning:

I love not writing books.

[Then she writes all about the angst of the book publishing/editing process, what happens when the book hits the street and gets reviewed, accepted, rejected and how your self esteem is all wrapped up in that… very interesting, but not relevant to the topic at hand.]

But within a week of Small Victories hitting the NY times bestseller list, which is the golden calf of publication, for which we writers perform baby goat sacrifices, people started asking, What are you going to do next?

Well. See, that’s the thing. What I want to do is write for free, write for you, write for me, be a part of trying to save the world for my son and grandson and my Sunday School kids. I can do this at Facebook, and would like to–walk away from the world of New York publishing, while remaining close to my agent and editor and the people at Riverhead Books, whom I adore. I have written and published 16 books, told you everything I know so far about God, Grace, families, truth, our souls, our healing, coming through, how we become resurrection stories; and writing. I have mentioned Shitty First drafts thousands of times, and that laughter is carbonated holiness. It’s all already on paper.

People who love me are trying to think of a book that I could write next, that would also do well with the public and make money. I was trying to think of a new book, too–but then I had a moment of clarity, and knew I would only be doing it for the money, and because I struggle with an addiction to people-pleasing. And I was raised to believe my self-worth depended on pleasing and impressing people in power positions. But that was then.

Now I want to write at Facebook, and maybe be of that kind of service in the world. I want to work on union with God, with Goodness, with loving Energy. I want to help raise my grandchild, and yours, and be a kind a kind of goofy birth coach and listener. I want to help us keep our heads above above water, in these devastating times, both in the world, and in our little galaxies. I don’t give a shit what Michiko Kakutani thinks about my work. Of course I somehow need to make a living, but maybe God, the Cosmic Muffin, will come up something. God always makes a way out of no-way.

I’m not saying I’ll never write another book. I’m just saying I don’t know what I’m doing right now, except writing for you here, and wanting to be of service in the world–partly because God tells me to, and partly because it is the only way to fill up. If we want to have loving feelings, we need to do loving things. So could we all pick up litter today, even though there will be more tomorrow, and take care of the most vulnerable people we know and meet–the poor, the elderly, kids, ourselves. And maybe not know what else we are doing–together?

What I read in her comments is that life matters more in the space around you than out in big, judgmental world. That we should be focused in ways that are near and dear and true. Whatever that means to you. I love the fact that she is a writer. I have zero fantasies that my writing will touch the vast and extensive audiences that her writing does, nor that I have anywhere near the talent. That is not relevant here. What she writes so well about, and what has become very clear to me, is that it’s more about process, about the journey, it’s about intention, joy, compassion, inner compassion, inner peace.

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