“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
— Mary Oliver
There’s a whole lot of sitting with ourselves these days, whether we like it or not. Being present. It comes as no surprise to me that this word which means ‘being in the moment’ is the same word for give, and gift. All the same, it can be a heavy offering. I don’t always want to be here now. Especially lately.
Even those of us lucky to still be busy with jobs, are juggling home schooling, or have to take care of others, have more time because we aren’t commuting, socializing, or running around in all kinds of ways. There is so much less distraction than usual. I’m tempted to call it a mixed blessing — but it’s really a blessing, even thought it’s a hard one.
After the pandemic crisis sent many of us home, and we dedicated ourselves to educating ourselves about that, then uneasily shifted into survival mode, during which simple trips to the grocery store required planning and patience unimaginable before, a certain acceptance settled in. It took me a long time; I was exceedingly resistant to the idea that we would still be here now, struggling through this moment. Everything inside me pushed back at the notion of being in my house this long — I have felt marooned as if on an island. Stuck with myself.
I’m not unique in my general tendencies to over-do and over-distract myself, and have genuinely yearned long for more being and less doing in my life. For years, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness have been ever-increasing in popularity as ways we might quiet our monkey minds, honor our bodies, take time out of our busy lives for ourselves. I bought in. I’ve taken lots of yoga classes, always glad for a guide and excuse to do something healthy for myself.
The beginning moment of meditation that starts class, during which we are gently invited to arrive in the moment and put everything else away, and shivasana, the supposed relaxation after a hard practice, have always been the most difficult for me, being still with myself. I’ve had to admit that the challenging poses, vinyasa flows with many steps, and ridiculous balancing postures — though making me present to my body — are my favorites because they take so much focus to accomplish that they serve as distraction from my mind.
As a writer, a grief writer no less, who has spent countless hours examining painful experiences on purpose, I’m surprised at my unwillingness to want to stay still. But it’s because it requires me to address what’s wrong with life now — personally, locally, nationally, globally.
I’ve been so grateful to to be present for natural beauty — during leisurely walks with my dogs, paying attention to the unfolding spring flowers, listening to the loudness of birds — and for the strengthening of friendships, relationships with (some) family members, working with my amazing colleagues. I’ve been obsessed with music like a lost lover I returned to, regaining callouses and guitar muscles, and deeply burying myself inside songs, new and old. I’ve delighted in writing poems, another return to self, but admittedly requiring limited focus.
Both external and internal arenas have been fraught. I find myself off and on avoiding news and social media, drinking more, finding reasons to leave the house, and eating up the comfort food of Netflix like everyone. Even after this specific moment is behind us, there will still be much that needs tending. Nothing changes without discomfort. Being present is critical to make it work.
Having this time is a gift. Inside the present’s box is a messy, broken world full of hurt. But I can’t close the lid now that I’ve looked, as much as I might want to. And my muscles, as in yoga, are getting stronger. I’m working on being able to carry what needs carrying, change what has to change, to be here now.