A Joyful Resting Place in Time

I am on vacation…in a pool…in the Florida sun… where I wished to be several days ago back in frigid Minnesota.  I am here…but…not quite here. I am moving forward to something even in the water…not standing still in this pool. I am doing my prescribed water exercises. “Lift left knee. Extend arms. Pull arms to side as left knee goes down and right leg lifts. Keep abdomen tight. Keep neck and upper back muscles relaxed. Repeat.”

I’m doing the exercises, but even in this pool, I think I have to be moving forward, advancing to the other side. One, two, three steps. Eleven. Turn, repeat to other side. Count steps to give sense of progress.

Even in the Florida sun in this quiet pool with no distractions, I seem to feel I must accomplish something. Be on my way to something. If I’m in the middle of the pool, I’m working to get to the other side. When I reach the far side, I turn and start pulling for the opposite side. Until the counting of strokes reaches 100.  Then I change the exercise routine…and repeat…one, two, three, four, five, eleven, reach goal, turn, repeat until I count 100 strokes.

I get out of the pool, dry off, take my place in the lounge chair. I’m having trouble just being here…alone…in the Florida sun…by a pool surrounded by palm trees and tropical birds. I turn on the MacBook Air and, as I do, I recall that I am refusing to be here…where I really AM…right now. My spirit is placeless.

A tiny lizard perches on the arm of the lounge chair next to mine. I look at it; it stares at me. The lizard throat blows up like an orange balloon bigger than its head. I move. The lizard scampers away. This is the place where the lizard lives. I do not. I am human, able to be everywhere at any time, but homeless, scurrying like the lizard for a resting place.

I put down my passenger ticket to everywhere and nowhere…the MacBook Air… and reach over for the hard copy of The Art of the Common-Place: the Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry I’ve brought for a quiet moment like this…a time to think….a time to dig deeper to get some perspective on life and the world. I open to the Introduction.

“Novalis, the German romantic poet and philosopher, once remarked that all proper philosophizing is driven instinctively by the longing to be at home in the world, by the desire to bring to peace the restlessness that pervades much of human life,” writes Norman Wirzba.

“Our failure – as evidenced in flights to virtual worlds and the growing reliance on ‘life enhancing’ drugs, antidepressants, antacids, and stress management techniques – suggests a pervasive unwillingness or inability to make this world a home, to find in our places and communities, our bodies and our work, a joyful resting place.”

The closest I get to that resting place is my daily afternoon nap back in Minnesota. I am not alone in the nap. Maggie and Sebastian join me in the siesta. Maggie cuddles up close to my head; Sebastian rests against my thigh, reminding their cerebral, restless friend, though without intention, that I really am in one place…at home…in the same time and space with them. If I am distracted when the time comes for the daily nap, Sebastian comes to get me and herds me up upstairs. “Come on, Dad, it’s nap time.” He and Maggie are attuned to time and place, the angle of the sun, the rhythms of day and night and our location in space while Dad is racing around the world and the universe on his MacBook Air looking for a resting place when the resting place is right upstairs in Chaska, Minnesota.

We humans think we are superior to the lizard who scampers down from the lounge chair, a superior species to the West Highland White Terrier and the Shitzu-Bichon Frise, yet we are less at home within the limits of creation itself…the limits of time and place…here in the Garden…where we are restless until we are timeless and spaceless…erasing all limits on the MacBook Air or the iPad…until we become…like God.

Discontent with embodied existence and valuing little, we scurry away, not seeing, not touching, not hearing, not feeling anything much but one, two, three, four…eleven on our way to nowhere in particular where perhaps the MacBook Air will take us vicariously to a joyful resting place…outside the Garden of time-bound lizards and dogs and human beings…a delusional placeless place beyond dust to dust, ashes to ashes… and we miss the whole experience…on the way to some place which is no place.

I want to learn to be in one place at one time. I want to live less anxiously. More present, one might say, to embodied life in this one spot where I really am…this one place… and find within it a joyful resting place.

9 thoughts on “A Joyful Resting Place in Time

  1. This is a little late, to say the least, but as I read, I thought immediately of BJ’s reading several books on Buddhism, even before she began doing yoga. This “mindfulness” is very in tune with Buddhism, and while you speak of space, where, their emphasis is on time, not to live thinking of the past or the future, but only this single moment — one second or maybe two. If one can do that, it pretty well takes care of the place too. It is the place you are at the moment, the single moment.

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    • Wow! How did you stumble upon that after all this time? In retrospect, I think that was one of the better pieces. Yes to everything you’ve said. There is a clear companionship between Buddhist and Christian traditions of mindfulness. In the Christian tradition it was hidden in the monasteries, but it has been there all along. There is only this moment. I like that – so long as I’m not in the midst of a tornado! 🙂

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  2. This essay expressed exactly how I am. You seem to suspect that while this need to accomplish can be a good thing used by God, it also has a dark side. I struggle greatly with this in my life. Thanks for the beautifully written essay.

    The Iowa Review is calling for entries for their annual writing contest. Check it out and enter something before the end of the month! Any of these posts might be a winner!

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    • Hi, Emily, So glad to be back in touch and to read your words here. I hope all is well with you, Joe, and those wonderful children. I think we in America are short on “being” and long on “action” without much reflection. The constant activity fills the voids of loneliness, boredom, and fear, but they are no substitute for the deep things of the human soul. Great things arise from those depths. Most of the rest is staying busy because we can’t sit still or are afraid of what we will find if we look at our own shadows. Like you, I find this to be my personal dilemma as well as the social sin and cultural shallowness and alienation of the culture that has shaped us.

      Thanks for the suggestion re: the Iowa Review. Can a writer submit more than one entry?

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  3. You reminded me of how much I have likedThich Nacht Hahn’s writings about mindfulness. His writings have helped me as I work on staying in the present.

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