Don’t just do something, stand there!
Tell about it.
This was a tough week for loss – both the poet Mary Oliver and the investor Jack Bogle. At first glance these seem like people who had little in common: Oliver spent her days in the woods or by the water, and Bogle loved interviews and TV cameras. Oliver gave us slim volumes of wisdom and reflection, and Bogle gave us a revolutionary mechanism for money management.
But look a little closer, and the similarities are striking. (Maybe this is always so). Both created as a result of suffering – Oliver’s as a child, and Bogle’s when we was ousted from Wellington. Both kept at it, for years and years, when it was not clear at all that the path they were on was a fruitful one. And both advised stillness.
Not a sleepy, blurry silence, but a keen, wide-awake sense of stillness. Pay attention to the market, and then do not leap to trading. Pay attention to your life, and then be astonished.
It’s when we are alert but un-doing that the best stuff comes.
Dear friends, if you are bundled up in the northeast US storm today, what better chance to practice? Pick something – a poem, a pot of soup, a chart of complex data, a person you love – and pay attention. Consider it deeply. Appreciate it.
Some of our earlier notes about Oliver here:
Recently I visited the most beautiful public playground I’d ever seen. It was not the most extravagant, or the biggest, but it had love and care in every corner. The big trees had been protected so that they could shade the playing areas from the intense sun. The tables were shaped as maps of the Hawaiian islands, so that you couldn’t help but learn as you sat. The fences featured handmade carvings of turtles and whales and fish. Every corner of the property was being enjoyed, with people playing basketball and reading books and captaining a giant wooden ship.
And near the entrance was a series of modest signs, each featuring a person who’d been instrumental in creation of the park. Unlike a lot of tributes, these signs did not cite dollars of donations or fancy titles. I don’t know if Rose Fujimori was a philanthropist, but I know she believed in the dream. I don’t know if Irma Chillingsworth was chair of the planning board, but I know she was a spunky go-getter.
This has me thinking of all the components we need for progress. We need dollars, often, but what good are those dollars without a spunky go-getter? And we need that energy, yes, but that energy will flag at times if there’s not someone else who holds a steady belief in the dream.
Dear friends, whatever we are working towards, what do we really need? Chances are that only a few of the most essential puzzle pieces are found in our budget spreadsheets and strategic plans.
And if we’re lucky enough to hold more formal titles like manager or chair or donor, what else do we add? Could we be spunky go-getters? Believers in a dream?
Every worthy endeavor needs an Irma and a Rose.
It’s the season of resolutions, when the supermarket is sold out of cauliflower and the treadmill section of the gym is overcrowded.
The challenge is, most of us don’t really love cauliflower all that much, and even with the greatest podcasts in the world it’s hard for treadmill time to feel anything but hamster-like. Without a greater vision, it’s no wonder that within a few weeks most resolutions are anything but resolved.
For many years, one item on my new year’s list has been to get over my fear of the water, and I’ve had some small and intermittent pockets of progress over time. But the truth is, I don’t love swimming pools, or bathing suits, or the idea of spending time on something that causes me anxiety.
What I DO love is catching a little glimpse of the amazing creatures that live in the sea, and being connected to a different part of our beautiful planet, and feeling strong and unafraid, and adventuring with my loved ones.
My sensible, rational resolution did not pull me back into the water this holiday. My loves did. And with those greater loves as inspiration, it’s possible to follow through over the longer term, too.
It is sensible to want to be able to swim. It is magical to visit with a sea urchin, or a manta ray, or a parrotfish.
Dear friends, where is our love?
Let’s follow it beyond the cauliflower and the treadmills, to the place where sensible meets magical.
Here we stand, on the edge of the new. Do you feel a little tippy, ready to plunge in? This year I am taking counsel from Pádraig Ó Tuama, whose wonderful In the Shelter begins with the idea of saying, “Hello to here.”
What is the name for the place where you now are? It requires close looking, it requires the dedication of observation and a commitment to truth. To name a place requires us to be in a place. It requires us to resist dreaming of where we should be, and look around where we are.
One reason to love the new year is its blank sheet of paper feeling, the idea that anything is possible. But to step into that wonderful possibility, our feet have to start right here where we are. Hello to here.
And if Here is nowhere close to where we want to be, all the more reason to pause and appreciate this place. It might be a long journey ahead, and we may never pass Here again.
Dear friends, Hello to Here.
May we have courage on our travels to There.
Happy New Year.
* In case you missed our year-end book list, here is the link:
** And here is Rilke’s full quote, which is a mix of wonder plus a caution to not spill too much of the new year’s potential:
And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious, and great things.
Dear friends, let’s celebrate like we’re in Iceland!
I’ve read that there is a tradition in Iceland called jolabokaflod, “Yule Book Flood.” On Christmas Eve, gifts of books are exchanged, and then everyone spends the evening reading. This is one idea that I hope will spread far and wide, across all regions and all faiths and all ages.
It brings me great joy to share these favorites with you, with best wishes for the new year.