Will you seek afar off? You surely come back at last,
In things best known to you, finding the best, or as good as
In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest;
Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place – not
for another hour but this hour…
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
While we were away on vacation in Maine, I couldn’t help checking out the local Maine real estate that was for sale.
“Look at this, a Victorian cottage, right beside the ocean!” I also found a farmhouse I liked, on 15 acres. How easy it was to imagine moving, to have a new experience!
I knew this was an unrealistic distraction, but at the same time it was fun to dream about an alternate life, in which Alan and I traded the mountains for the ocean – or decided to raise goats on a farm and start our own goat cheese operation.
Somehow, these past few weeks of summer had unleashed a gnawing sense of restlessness in me.
Back home in Breckenridge, I felt uneasy and couldn’t settle down. I sat in front of my bookshelf, as if some of my favorite books would give me clues as to what was causing this unquiet feeling: was the answer to be found in a far-off adventure, as the writers of “Into Thin Air” or “The Snow Leopard” might suggest? Or, like the authors of “A Country Year” or “Wind in the Willows,” would I find the great adventure closer to home?
Then one title jumped out at me: “The Places That Scare You,” by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. I knew that place. It was here, where I am, at this very moment. And I was having a hard time accepting that.
“We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience,” writes Chödrön. “Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Discursive mind? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! ….What am I doing here? Stay!”
I tried to settle down. I tried to ‘stay.’
The backyard was quiet after our weeks away, and I filled up the bird feeder with seeds and mixed sugar water for the other, hummingbird feeder. By afternoon, my dog Luke and I were sitting on a bench in the yard, surrounded by the noise and busy activity of birds and one loud, scolding squirrel. I was trying to ‘stay.’
A friend texted to find out if I was home from vacation and invited me for a walk. I tried to ‘stay’ with my uneasiness. She is a good listener, and as we hiked through the aspens I blurted out the thing that feels most scary and out of control in my life right now: the fact that my mother, who has been sick for several years, is now coming to the end of her life.
I have busied myself with with trying to coordinate care and finances, discussing the situation with my brother and sister, figuring out what will happen with my Mom’s cat. I have been trying to control the uncontrollable – the fact that my mother is dying – with all my activity.
“Without realizing it, we continually shield ourselves from pain because it scares us,” writes Chödrön.
It is easier to imagine moving to Maine or running a goat farm, than to ‘stay’ with that pain, and to be present to the idea of a world without my mom in it.
A few nights later Alan and I sat in our backyard with a neighbor who had brought over corn and tomatoes from Palisade, and chard from her garden. We ate outside, where the daisies were blooming in the field, and the sun was going down over Peak One. How good it is to be home, I realized, “Not in another place – but this place.”
Chödrön: “By simply staying here…it feels like stepping out of a fantasy world and discovering the simple truth.”
Here, with our neighbors and our friends, we have shared the simple joys of this life: walks up the logging trail with real-time text reports of local moose sightings, keeping an eye on each others dogs, celebrations of our work or creative successes. And we’ve shared each other’s pain and hard times too: we’ve stayed with each other through illness, broken hearts, death of people we love. All of it.
Instead of starting a goat farm in Maine, I’d rather be here, home. I’d rather just ‘stay.’
Illustration by Jeremy Norton from Shamantube. This article was printed in the Summit Daily News, August 20, 2019