Consider: Solitude Invites Us

Dear Friends,

They are here again: the arrowleaf balsamroots.

I’ve been watching closely these last months, since the deep snow of this past winter finally allowed itself to be whittled away. It was a relief when open ground emerged then tentatively greened. Along the trail, silvery nodes extricated themselves from mud, then shot up, unfurling silver broad leaves. Now, sun-yellow flowers stud the whole hillside above my house. The dogs and I take our morning constitutional. A slight breeze stirs. The yellow heads of the balsamroot bob and nod, agreeing it seems with the goodness of the morning, of springtime, of life itself.

I tell you all this because for months things have been hard.

In Western Montana, our February, averaging just 16 degrees, was the coldest since 1898.  It snowed Every. Single. Day. Not heaps and heaps. Just enough to require substantial shovel work. Under an unvaried, cheerless sky, I cleared the driveway and sidewalks, re-doing work I had toiled over the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that. In the midst of those seemingly interminable February days, my husband had knee surgery, my daughter the flu, my son switched middle schools, my puppy chewed holes in the carpet, my novel got rejected – again. And while these small, private emotional debits compiled, the insane gale of the world-at-large kept churning out new debasements to our civic life. Unmoored from thoughtful, robust discourse, from the guiding lights of ethics and empathy, and even from the self-imposed railings of honesty and norms, our politics has degenerated into a grotesque caricature of public life.

Frankly, it’s wearying. After the winter – or perhaps after these forty-one years of sentience – I’m a little care-worn, a little buffeted.

“Most people,” Rilke writes, “have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult…it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult.”

If these last months have proven anything, it’s that I want to shy away from the difficult, take the handiest exit distraction provides. Rilke’s words feel like a chance to consider the ways in which I behave like “most people.” What unexamined conventions have I adopted? What habits of mind do I rely upon, not because they enrich my life, but precisely because they shield and divert me from the wonder and, let’s be frank, terror of being alive? It’s easier, so much easier, to duck one’s head and scroll Instagram than it is to keep one’s face to the wind of our deepest questions, our mortality, our hopes, our loneliness, our longings.

Solitude invites us to an interior expansiveness. I find that just inside solitude’s gate the way is populated with advertising jingles and grocery lists, political diatribes, frustration at my son for losing his soccer jersey, my sense of failure because I didn’t make it to the gym today, the comeback I should have used on that bully back in eighth grade. But that’s just the first mile. Once I’ve passed this by, who knows what vastness I’ll find.

“But listen to the voice of the wind/ and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence,” Rilke writes in his first Duino Elegy.  The wind is in the balsamroots now, nodding their heads, shaking their silver leaves. It’s in me, if I have ears to hear it. It’s in this busy, hard, beautiful, passing, poignant life. What I actually long for is to listen for that ceaseless message wrought from silence. Everything good tells me it’s worth the difficult journey.

Peace,

Lindsay

Consider: Reclaiming Our Attention

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, my husband and I took a walk through a beautiful fall afternoon. Our dog nosed at animal trails and loped through a stand of golden aspens. The afternoon, in all respects, was gorgeous, the sort of full-color fall afternoon you know will soon be memory. My husband looked up. “Do you know what the weather is going to be tomorrow?”aspens

I stopped in the middle of the trail and automatically reached toward my phone. Some part of my mind halted. “Don’t do it!” I said to myself. I pulled an empty hand back and picked a spear of grass instead, twirling it between my fingers. “No idea,” I answered my husband, “we can look when we get back.”    

Sustained attention, we all know, is under assault. I recently listened to an interview about “the arms race for human attention” with former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris. This interview was darkly illuminating about the persuasive psychology upon which internet content and smartphone applications are built. Far from neutral, the technology which frames our lives is engineered to maximize habit-formation and addiction. I feel moderately aware that my attention is being hijacked, and yet I still tune in to the ever-ready supply of constantly refreshed newsfeed, headlines, and emails.

We each have an inner garden to cultivate. Our hearts and minds, our brain space, our attention, are ours to tend. This work is our birthright. And everyday, I sell some portion of this birthright for meager return. Today I sold it for one trip to Facebook, nine or ten worthless checks on my email, and several swipes on national headlines.

I want my attention back. I want my inner garden to be rich with rare and exotic flowers cultivated over years of patience, effort, and considered attention. In this era where statistics show the average attention span has dropped below that of the common goldfish, I can’t assume that reclaiming my attention will come easily. Literally billions of dollars are arrayed against it.

Recently I came across this quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains… But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself.”

As I read this quote, something stirred inside. My modern mind feels abuzz with lists and worries, with reminders and to-dos. It couldn’t feel further from Aurelius’ trouble-free retreat. Yet it is within my power to retire into my own soul, to journey deep into that wilderness. Though billions of dollars clamor otherwise, each and every moment, the choice to make such a journey is mine.

Peace,

Lindsay

P.S.  What is your answer for leaving the constant buzz and “retiring into your soul?”  We really want to know!  Leave a comment here or (ironically) on EHH’s Facebook page, or send us a message.

Consider: Calling Across the Lake

kayakSince moving to the Pacific Northwest, I have come to believe that nothing is better than “messing about in boats”–if those boats are kayaks.  I love that first pull away from shore, the transformation of clumsy land mammal to gliding waterbird.

Some months ago, I escaped the busyness of my life for a camp near Mt. Rainier.  More than anything, I hungered to be out on the lake alone.  I pushed out my kayak, paddled into deep water, and waited.  For what?  I think I wanted the lake to give me something, though I can’t tell you what it was.

The lake did not fulfill my overly simple quest for “peace and quiet.” The wind stirred the trees, birds cried, my paddle dipped into the water.  Inside my head, voices shouted and whispered and cajoled.  Still, I waited, as I often do when I enter into a wild place, for some kind of gift, some kind of salvation.

But as the saying goes, wherever you go, you are there.  Even in the midst of that expansive beauty on the lake, I felt the margins of myself keenly.  Again, I was the self-conscious human, standing outside, looking in.  Small, limited, cosmically alone, I waited.

I am–and you likely are, too–the man in Robert Frost’s poem, The Most of It, who stands at the edge of a lake and shouts.  What does he hope for?  A voice not his own, a voice to startle him out of his weary self.  What does he receive, coming back over the water?  An echo of his own voice.  He thinks he keeps ‘the universe alone,’ and in this echo-chamber, there is no escape.

Sound familiar?

“Some morning from the boulder-broken beach

He would cry out on life, that what it wants

Is not its own love back in copy speech,

But counter-love, original response.”

What saves him, with sudden, unsettling crash, is a mighty buck that pushes the water and scrambles to shore, “pouring like a waterfall,” then ploughs through the underbrush–and is gone.

What saved me that day out on the lake were the ospreys that circled high, crying, and then plunged down into the water to hook fish in their claws.  I pulled my paddle and let myself glide, absorbed in watching the birds dive and call.  For just a moment, the multitude of things that clamor for my attention died away in the stunning scene before me.

This world shakes me from myself again and again.  Some days, of course, my walls are simply too impenetrable.  But I keep calling across the lake, waiting for that encounter with the Other.  And all I have to do, most of the time, is show up.  Whether it’s pushing out a kayak or simply stepping out on my back porch, this world so often rises up with is own startling presence.

Peace,

Kim

P.S.  For a rather humorous behind-the-scenes glimpse of this week’s Consider, please visit The Back Page.

P.P.S.  We’d love to hear from you.  Please enter the conversation–suggestions for further reading, counter-readings of Frost’s poem–on Facebook or on the comments form on our blog. Or drop us a line.

Consider: A Meditation for Rest

Dear Friends,

This week, I took my journal and Rilke book with me to the Oregon coast.  The wide swath of sand — broken by the ethereal, craggy rocks and the endless Pacific sea–gathered my attention to itself, and despite my intentions, both book and journal stayed in my bag.IMG_6093
There is something about wide open spaces that is good for the soul, that offers rest to an over-hectic mind.

 Our minds are often cacophonous places.  Our spirits are cluttered with what we must do, where we have failed, and who we must protect.  We cling to these thoughts.  Or they cling to us.  But to be as open and expansive as the sea — who dares to ask for such a gift?

“Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you,” St. Augustine wrote to God.  What a simple, lovely reminder to step into healing rest.  And what a hard thing to do.  Ironically, we so often work long and hard trying to find rest!  But rest does not need to be earned- it is a divine gift and a relational beckon from Unconditional Love.

I wrote this blessing for a friend of mine at a desperate time in her life.  In this mid-summer moment of busyness, I offer it to you.

 When you have given all you can

and your spirit is drained

and your body worn,

may you find rest.

May you forget about deserve,
earn, 
and not enough.

Instead, may you find grace,

abundant, overflowing.

May you step under this waterfall

and hold up your hands,

drinking your fill.

May the sweat and dirt and tears

from your good labors be washed away;

may every anxious muscle unknot,

and may Peace minister to you.

May you have the wisdom

to put away all that can wait until tomorrow;

may you find a silent space and stay there.

For all that is vital is here now, in this place,

waiting for you.

Open your hands and receive.

May everything in your body
accept goodness;

may you hear the words you long to hear:

Well done, good and faithful one!

May the roots of your longing

drink deeply.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

Kim

The Why that Drives

Recently a friend invited me to lead a training on vocation for young adults.  “Thanks for thinking of me,” I accepted the invite, “I’d love to.”

Love to?  Maybe.

For me, vocation–the why that drives what I do — is a word full of shifting shadows.  It’s a relentless companion that plucks at my elbow, eats at my board, sleeps when I sleep, rises when I rise.  It’s alternately the draft upon which my heart soars and the hollowing wind that scours me empty.  It’s a prize and a punishment.

Nearly eighteen years ago, Tim and I moved to Montana from the Boston area.  We wanted to start our marriage on our own terms, away from the pace and pressures of the east coast.  Though we’d never stepped foot in the state, we’d gathered ideas about Montana like wild yeasts caught from the air.  Two weeks after our wedding, we packed a moving truck and drove across the country.

In those first years, we rented a small house on the Flathead Reservation, started making soap in the basement as a lark, and completed graduate degrees for our inevitable decampment back East. “Come visit us,” we widely broadcast to friends and family, “this is our last year here.”

Then our first son came.  Still, we reasoned, after one more year, we would go.  Then our second son arrived.  A family now, we considered where we wanted to raise children.  Montana’s rivers and mountains, its famous big sky and slow drifting days had gotten ahold of us.  How could we leave?

We didn’t.  Tim threw himself into turning our basement soap-making operation into a business that could sustain our family.  And to support the eighty-hour weeks those early years of building a business demanded, I stayed home with our boys.

One day, shortly after the birth of our second son, I wove through the grocery store, pushing both boys in the cart.  I bumped into one of my philosophy professors–a brilliant, hard-driven man– with whom Tim and I had both taken classes.  We had loved every minute of his seminars, picking over the bones of modernity.  He’d championed our plans to head back East for more grad school.  That day, in the grocery store, as I tried to keep my toddler from climbing out of the cart, he asked me, “Why are you still in Montana? You’re wasting yourself here.”

The truth of those words struck me.  I’d fallen out of the sphere where my mind could maintain the iron-sharpening-iron edge of academics.  At home with two young children, I was out of the camaraderie and sense of accomplishment of the workforce.  The losses were real.

But in another — equally true — sense, I was gaining myself, gaining myself in a quieter, harder way.  We’d moved to Montana to live on our own terms, and now I was going to have to dig deep and lean into those terms.  I couldn’t use the ready-made handhold of a career to lift my life.

Researcher and storyteller Brene Brown often talks about our tendency to “hustle for our worthiness.”  Through pleasing and performing, we chase a sense of self.  Even though I know in my bones that as a child of God, no amount of “doing” can add to my essential worthiness, I still find myself trying to earn this inheritance.

I believe we each live our own variants of the basic question: What am I here for?  Entangled with ancillary issues like ego, status, failure, fulfillment, shame, hope, becoming, I find this question impossible to get a hold of; one bit snakes out just as I get the lid on the opposite corner.

“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.”  Parker Palmer writes in his book, Let Your Life Speak.  My years in Montana, my years of “wasting myself” and gaining myself have been a decades-long lesson in learning not to scramble.

“Love, share, engage,” Kim writes in this week’s Consider. “These are the superhero tasks of our lives.”  Egos scramble.  True selves love, share, engage.  Indeed this is hard and heroic work.

There is an old Hasidic tale that Martin Buber records in this way, “Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said, ‘In the coming world, they will not ask me: “Why were you not Moses?” They will ask me: “Why were you not Zusya?”’

In the shifting shadows and lights of my life, I’m discovering what it is to be me.  Not Moses, not Zusya, just me.

Travel Log

This morning I said goodbye to the girls and my husband, Martin, and I drove through rare and welcome midmorning sunshine to the ferry dock.  After a peaceful hour’s ride, we exited the mouth of the ferry, whisked through the bustle of Seattle, wound up the still-snowy mountain pass, and rocketed out into the vast, desolate rolling hills.  No kids in the back seat, a podcast murmuring quiet wisdom, and a hot cup of coffee: bliss.  A chance at last to cultivate what Lindsay talked about so well in her Consider this week: the art of inwardness.

Now I sit alone in the hotel room with the hum of the air-conditioning and congestive rattle of the mini fridge.  As soon as Martin left to see colleagues (this is work trip), I fought the urge to flip on the T.V.  Instead, I sat down with a glass of wine to mull over what Martin said after I got off the phone with Lindsay this afternoon.  “You’re so busy,” he said, “I wonder if you’ve taken time to slow down and reflect on the process of launching Each Holy Hour?”  You mean like metacognition, I answered, using a word educators love.  He smiled.

Metacognition is about thinking and talking honestly about your own learning process.  So as I begin to narrate the process of building Each Holy Hour, a project for wonder, I admit to myself that my recent preoccupation with the many “ticks on the to-do list” that Lindsay described in her meditation has had nothing to do with encountering wonder.  It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed moments of loveliness as I’ve waded through a thick morass of details of building a new website and content.  Even in the thicket of logistics, even as I clawed my way up the steep learning-curve of technology, I’ve found time to hug my kids, take in our blooming cherry tree, stand hushed and awed over a nest of newly hatched chickadees.

But I’ve reflected very little.  I’ve been glued to my phone and my computer so much that my eyes have become achy and bloodshot.  I’ve been myopic and obsessed, not inward–there’s a big difference:  “Inwardness is a summons that resists stress and hustle, an orientation to the world, not something that can be gained by doing.”

I struggle with the tension of keeping my life balanced.  When you parent three kids, work a part-time job, and write to boot, getting things done is hard-won.  On launch day, all my daughters were home sick.  As I face-timed Lindsay about the first Consider, her daughter (home sick!), jostled her elbow and asked questions.

But now after two weeks of doing, I feel unmoored from the very things that Each Holy Hour is all about:  solitude, reflection, face-to-face, unhurried communion with people.

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Flashback two months ago to a walk on the beach by grey Puget Sound.  Lindsay had made the drive from Montana to visit us.  Our kids picked their way through shallow pools, collecting crabs and eels. We tiptoed through thousands of sand dollars stacked in the sand–like shingles, Lindsay observed.  We dragged sticks in the sand, bent down to pocket smooth, ancient stones, lingered over driftwood.  And we discussed our passion for contemplation and our need for silence.  We talked about Each Holy Hour.

Life is about dwelling in that tension between doing and being.  Some hours are as spacious and silent as the hilly farmland we drove through this afternoon; others are as hectic and noisy as downtown Seattle.  Sometimes we hold our breath, lower our gaze, and plow through the crowd, and other days we wander blissfully under a wide, open sky.

But finding balance demands more from me than just silencing my phone for a few moments to snap up some convenient inwardness.  Inwardness is an “orientation to the world.”  It’s a way of being, a way of breathing, if you will.  And in a culture that measures me by my productivity, I need to  exhale and open my hands.

–KLC

Consider: Learning the Art of Inwardness

Dear Friends,

Welcome to our first edition of Consider. May it be a little forage for your inward journey.

Some years ago I listened to an interview with the late Irish poet, John O’Donohue. Amid chopping vegetables for dinner and kids whisking through the kitchen, I hustled to find a scrap of paper and record a single phrase from the poet. On a post-it note, I scribbled these words: learning the art of inwardness…

For years now, this scrap has been tacked above my desk. Often, when I’m stalled on a sentence or laboring over a fitting word, my eyes lift to O’Donohue’s phrase. Though just a fragment, it winks with invitation.

Learning the art of inwardness…

I feel myself slow down. Take a breath. Wonder as some pinprick of light slants through these words.

To borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot, these words give me the sense that I’ve drawn close to something essential and true, something abiding at the boundary of my senses like “music heard so deeply/ That it is not heard at all.”

Unlike so many things, even lovely things, that become more ticks on a to-do list, learning the art of inwardness is a summons that resists stress and hustle. It’s an orientation to the world, not something that can be gained by doing. It’s learning to tune in with the aerials of our hearts to the music that is so deeply heard, we miss it most of the time.

Surely this music is always playing. How do we give ourselves a chance to listen?

You’ll find Each Holy Hour is short on prescription and long on question. The answers we each find will be as varied as we are. But, I believe, you already and intuitively know how you best listen, how you cultivate your inwardness.

In the next few days, consider this phrase: learning the art of inwardness… Where does it summon you? How will you tune in?

Throughout the week, Kim and I will be continuing this discussion on the blog and posting Instagram content for further engagement.

One last thing: we’re grateful for all of you. Thanks for being part of Each Holy Hour and please chime in with your comments and thoughts. We look forward to deepening the conversation by hearing from you.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

Lindsay