And other decisions to consciously slow down.
Originally published on Medium.
I was standing in the middle of a choir room with 70 middle schoolers when I first heard an 1848 Quaker song that made me my stop in my tracks. As a war torn sub racing day to day across the city to a variety of dark and dingy public schools (that looked more like prisons than educational facilities), this moment of unexpected pleasure was nothing short of a miracle – like waking up to a dozen deliciously wrapped presents on the kitchen table in July when your birthday isn’t until mid December.
What a gift it was to find myself in a 1930’s brick building building complete with wood floors and industrial lighting that looked like a scene out of Matilda the Musical. Add in vaulted ceilings, wood paned windows, diamond tiled linoleum and fresh paint, it was if I was transported back in time — to a time that was simpler.
The chatty kids were called to attention by a peppy sixth grade comrade in afro puffs who commanded the respect of even the largest Draco Malfoy’esque 8th grader. She whistled shrilly, picked up what could only be a magic wand (as it even got the attention of the lovebirds sneaking a kiss in the corner to high tail it to the risers) and soon the whole room bellowed:
’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
With their voices blending in perfect pitch and harmony, I almost forgot how tired I was from the hour of bumper-to-bumper traffic I endured to get here on time. (Not to mention my frantic search for a Starbuck’s pitstop — just one more reason I’ve given up my morning java.)
Being among those soaring young voices, I forgot about the musical project I desperately wanted to complete but, due to bills and parenting and life responsibilities, remained lagging on my desktop.
I stopped obsessing about whether I would, or would not, get enough days to cover my insurance for the following year.
I just remained in the classroom, in the moment, soaking in the beauty of the notes and the fresh faces before me.
Now I’m not naive. It was possible that some of those kids had more checkered pasts at 13 then I did at 48. But there’s something about being still, about being as Eckhart Tolle reminds us, in “the power of NOW”, that showered me with unexpected peace.
The same could be said this weekend when I found a book, Simple Abundance, that had been sitting in “Andrea’s Box of Books” for 20 years in the garage. I had recently transferred this behemoth of literature to my closet and, in my own answer to my soul’s cluttered spirit, I finally picked through the titles one by one.
I tossed most of the books to make room on my shelf for the ones I truly cherished (not ones I “may” or “may not” ever read) but this beautiful pink treasure I kept. It was brand new, and something called me to set it aside. I’m so glad I did, because every single page in this 365 day devotion to simplicity speaks to my fractured spirit.
Each page reminds us to slow down. To get rid of what we don’t use. To make room for the richness of experience. To remember that we do not lack a thing to have a life of joy, peace and beauty. We only need to notice.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m not careful, I can find more things to do in a day than is possible to get done.
I can live in the past in my mistakes, or I can live in the future with my fear, but in doing so I tend to forget the beautiful wonder and joy of what is right in front of me.
One of the things the author reminds us to do is to not only to not forget to notice the loveliness right in front of us… the scent of a beeswax candle… the beauty of a clean pavement after an overdue rain… but to cultivate it.
From the January 7 entry, she writes, “What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love. We must learn to savor small, authentic moments that bring us contentment. Experiment with a new cookie recipe. Take the time to slowly arrange a bouquet of flowers in order to appreciate their colors, fragrance, and beauty. Sip a cup of tea on the front stoop in the sunshine. Pause for five minutes to pet a purring cat. Simple pleasures are waiting to be enjoyed. Simple pleasures often overlooked.”
Is this possible to really do? Even when politics suck? Even when someone is mean to you on Facebook? Even when the kids don’t understand you? (No, I’m not talking about me. Ahem.) The answer is, YES. To live a life of richness means to intentionally seek it out, no matter how simple they are.
I did just that on Sunday. After returning from a trip away by myself to a cottage by the beach that had, gulp, two fireplaces, a kitchen and a sunken tub- more than simple abundance by a landslide- I stopped by the market to grab some wood to continue the cozy vibe at home.
Side note on the cottage: I might have kept both fireplaces running at the same time just to giddily run back and forth, buck naked, for the sheer joy of being able to do so in splendid, blessed quiet. #noregrets
(Pier Point Inn, Ventura. Beautiful and, turns out, possibly haunted. I did feel a spooky vibe but I didn’t care. .It was too quaint to worry about and likely any ghosts, seeing a six foot 50 year old racing through the parlor, would have been more terrified of me than I of them.
After getting a jumpstart on my car, I finally returned home to my own lovely cottage — a two story house I’ve been lucky enough to inhabit for almost 20 years. Sitting in the driveway, I made a conscious decision to not get irritated about dishes that would inevitably be left in the sink. (They were.) I refused to get crazy about the dog who would likely jump all over me with excitement at her long lost mistress finally back from the salt mines (She did… complete with a puddle.)
Instead, I did what I often do before I enter my house these days. I took a breath and offered up a simple, hopeful prayer, “God, go before me.”
And so, with my Higher Power’s help and a mind set on acceptance of the simple abundance that could be mine if I kept my mind as calm as the two bedroom rental I just nested in, I brought my full suitcases and my full heart into the house.
“Mama, you’re home!” both teenagers said, getting offline for just a moment to hug me.
“I missed you!” I said back. And, to my surprise even after the stressful past few weeks we’ve had, it was true.
After doing dishes, I put on my pajamas and sat on the couch. I took in the smells of the pizza my husband was baking in the kitchen. I made a point to thank him… to not take this simple Sunday ritual for granted. I then lit a fire.
Before long, the teenagers and their friend sauntered in. Sitting 10 feet apart, we laughed and watched the crackle of the flames. There were no phones. No Netflix. Just the five of us trading stories about Star Wars and our favorite books.
I can’t lie. As much as I loved getting away by myself, the very best part of the whole weekend was tea in front of my very own fire. It was simple. It was comforting. And the mood was, yes, abundant with peace.
The next day, my dog must have felt the vibes, because I found her happily snoring on the couch. Normally a stickler for tidiness, I was content enough from the night before that I didn’t even feel the need to clean up the dishes left under the couch. I didn’t straighten the magazines or the pillows. I left it all there for the day as a reminder that, indeed, “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free.”
It has been my experience that happiness is not a destination. It’s a choice to live in peace, to take notice of the little things in our lives and set a tone for radical joy that is not dependent on stuff but on love. Always love.
DAILY QUESTION: “Is there something you can do that is simple that can bring joy to your home… that can set the tone not just for you but for everyone you come in contact with?”
I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,
I’m a published TV, blog, magazine and book writer who also coaches moms and grandmoms to write books rooted in wisdom, spirituality and humor.
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