the days are nouns

Rovinj, Croatia
Daily by Naomi Shihab Nye

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips
 
These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares
 
These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl
 
This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out
 
This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky
 
This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it
 
The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world
 

I first came across this poem over at Karl Duffy’s Mindfulbalance blog. I found it to be a lovely reminder of the peace that’s possible amidst my day-to-day activities, and how, in a way, we are all connected through the act of taking care, of living.

because you have lived

Hosta blossom

What is success?
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

What is success? How do we define success? Oh, the many ways I’ve defined it over the decades of my life!

Since retiring, I’ve been more curious than ever about what it means. What makes a successful day? a successful life? I’ve noticed my tendency to define myself by my accomplishments, by the actions I take, the tangible outcomes I achieve. I’ve reflected on how this achievement orientation started as I child, called to contribute to the family and our community in meaningful ways, how it strengthened as I was invited to learn and show my understanding through school lessons, and how it continued to morph when I become a worker in the productivity machine of the corporate workplace.

Now, though, I feel Emerson’s invitation to open to something so much simpler, something holding such power and possibility: to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. That would be success.

Be Excessively Gentle with Yourself

Columbine leaf with morning rain

A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted by John O’Donahue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

I saw a familiar quality in Mr. O’Donahue’s poem: moving from darkness to light. A shift that happens somewhere along the way. So often when I feel inspired to write, it’s a journey of growth, moving from a place of challenge to a place of release, a place of confusion to clarity, a place of discontent to contentment, a place of resistance to openness. Can you see where the movement begins? Ah, slow, free, calm, gentle, ease, joy…yes.