Invitations

18 10 2012

It had been gray and raining for days, so sunshine on Monday was a welcome sight. Rather than wait and walk later in the evening, after dark (as you will know from last week’s post is my latest habit), I was determined to get outside and walking while the sun was still shining. I took off in the slightly sketchier direction – the one I wouldn’t head in if it were dark and I was by myself – so cheerful there was an actual bounce in my step.

The neighborhood was alive with people: a couple of punk teens with bad-ass hair on banged-up mountain bikes, a young mother trying to wrangle three toddlers out of a leaf pile and into the house, two girls walking slowly down the sidewalk in stocking feet. About two blocks from home, I noticed side-by-side yards. One yard had been meticulously raked of leaves, while the yard next to it was a matted carpet of orange and yellow. The boundary between the two lawns was clearly, meticulously, demarcated.

As I approached, I noticed an older woman raking in the side yard of the well-manicured lawn. She looked at me and broke into a lovely grin.

“Beautiful evening for a walk,” she said.

“Sure is. Looks like you’ve had quite the job keeping up with those leaves,” I replied.

“Right! There’s another rake if you want to join me,” the woman said with a mischievous smile. (I believe her eyes literally twinkled as she said it.)

We both laughed, and I continued on my genuinely merry way. About a block later, I stopped to photograph some graffiti which ordered me to:

but rather than consider the definition of art, as directed, I found myself contemplating an entirely different question. Why didn’t I take the proffered rake and help that woman finish cleaning up her yard? 

In the moment of our brief conversation, I had assumed that the woman and I were engaging in noncommittal stranger interaction. Just a friendly passing of a few congenial seconds. It had not occurred to me to take her seriously and join her at her labor. But as soon as the question came to my mind, I knew I had blown an opportunity. I had declined an invitation.

Lately, I have complained about being at a…pause point…in my life. Near the end of one road but not yet able to set foot on the next. I have been chafing at this, contemplating ways that I can experience forward movement or at least some kind of engagement in the NOW, so I don’t revert to old (nearly lifelong) habits of living in and for the future. I know from bitter experience that when I exist in a future context, I have a tendency to allow inertia to lull me into inaction. Suddenly, I have lost focus and months have passed without movement in any direction (except, perhaps, upward on my bathroom scales).

I have been contemplating different tactics, from purposely stepping outside my comfort zone in some way (um, do I really want to hang out at the biker bar by myself and see how that goes?) to setting up some kind of social experiment (eat for a week on the same amount of money a food stamp recipient receives) to see how resourceful and creative I can be as well as to understand how difficult it might be to live within externally-set limits. Don’t get me wrong, these kinds of activities are not necessarily bad. However, for me right now these ideas are inauthentic. Contrived. Right now, I need grounded and authentic.

In Hymns to an Unknown God, Sam Keen says, “Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, casual blessings, and teachers who unknowingly speak to your condition.” In other words, expect invitations to enter into the lives of others, to engage with yourself and those around you in different ways. Invitations to journey in new directions and to try new things.

I believe these invitations (opportunities, clandestine messages) occur in each of our lives on a daily basis. But I also know I am often so caught up in my own scripts, my own daily agendas, that I easily miss them. I don’t realize something important or meaningful has just been offered. What if I had accepted the invitation to rake with that woman? At the very least, I would have taken a little time out of my day to help a neighbor. At the very most…well, who can say what might have been created in that space?! Either way, I would have been richer for it.

Sometimes, these invitations lead to life-changing encounters. The kind of encounters (with others or with ourselves) that give us pause, offer us insight, allow us to connect the dots from where we are to where we want/need to go. As Gregg Levoy says in Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, “In whatever form these signal events come to us, they seem to indicate…a way in which events on the outside and the inside work together and match each other. The event and our state of mind become like the two eyepieces of a binocular microscope, they are both looking at the same subject, the same truth.” When this happens, the invitation extended to us is, in fact, a call to become our most authentic selves.

I am grateful for the reminder that I need to be on the lookout for these invitations, these messages intended for me personally. Though they might show up at odd or unexpected moments, it is vital to keep the following in mind : once I’ve received the invitation, the whole point is to accept it. To show up at the party (or conversation, lecture, volunteer site, relationship) – without attachment to preconceived outcomes – and see what there is to learn or to give.

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7 responses

18 10 2012
Melissa

I love the quote from Sam Keen… makes me think twice about an interaction I had earlier this week. Sometimes not knowing where the road may lead keeps me from checking it out…. but then I complain when I’m still in the same spot. Food for thought today. 🙂 Thanks.

18 10 2012
jenion

Monkey: Its funny, isn’t it, that we think of ourselves as enjoying adventures on roads we haven’t travelled before – as long as we are in the planning/driver’s seat. The adventures and invitations that FIND US are so much more intimidating. Yet, they are the more likely of the two to move us along 🙂

18 10 2012
MRB

Imagine: A late Monday evening, one of the last mild nights of the season, sitting on a patio listening to live jazz, sipping an exquisite petite sirah, fully engaged in conversation with a new friend, someone who feels like I’ve known her for years…

While we didn’t change the world that night, it did resonate with me personally as a pivotal moment in my life. I had longed to be more fully engaged in my life, and finally, because I accepted an invitation, I was; because several weeks previous, I talked to a person I didn’t know at a party I wasn’t comfortable attending.

I could easily have said no. It was late on a work night when she called. I could easily have ignored her weeks earlier, let alone not even show up at the party. Ironically, the only reason I didn’t want to go to that party was because I had to go alone and later than everyone else.

There is really only one tactic: accept invitations!

Thanks for sharing, Jeni!

18 10 2012
jenion

MRB: I thought of you quite a bit while writing this post. Overt invitations, “Come with me…”, “Meet me…” are as easy to discount sometimes out of fear, self-consciousness, inertia as are those less direct invitations (the ones where the invite is hidden in some event or situation). Like you, I’ve learned through accepting the invitations just how much my life has been enriched by that – and it makes me so happy to see that happening for you. I’m still learning to recognize the hidden invitations, much less accept them and enter into them 🙂 My hope for both of us is that we continue to find enrichment and joy through the practice of saying yes!

18 10 2012
jenion

PS Your comment is beautifully written!

18 10 2012
MRB

“Come with me to homecoming.” I’m still really happy you said yes! And stop trying to make me a writer.

18 10 2012
jenion

mrb: I’m not trying to MAKE you anything – you are what you are 🙂

I’m very glad I said yes as well!

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