Finite Math

At 5:15 a.m. my neighbor begins making breakfast. A strange trick of acoustics in this building means that, in my upstairs bedroom, I hear every rattle and bang in their downstairs kitchen. I roll over and attempt a return to slumber.

Some days, that works. Some days I stretch my sleep-sore muscles and fall gracefully, gratefully back asleep. But not today. Today, I stretch and wonder about that heaviness in my leg – is it a sign? Should I see the doctor? From there, the worries and anxieties held at bay while I sleep come marching forward, a neurotic, necrotic parade.

Knowing sleep will not return at this point, I get up. In my kitchen, I begin the morning ritual of making my double shot Americano. Add hot water and the finely ground espresso becomes the rich loamy soil in which I will plant a new day. Whether it will be a good day, productive and interactive – or not- is often determined in this moment.

My friend Wendy has spent the last seventeen years telling her children that they have a choice – if you don’t like how you feel in this moment, choose to feel differently. Happiness isn’t a destination, its a choice you make in every moment of action or reaction. I watch her girls, all teenagers now, and see them apply this choice. It is like the sun emerging from clouds, that moment.

This morning, as I sip my coffee, it feels like a herculean task, that reframing of mindset. I’m not sure I’m up to it. I turn on my computer, and find Parker Palmer’s weekly “On Being” blog post, this week called “Poetry as Sacrament: Disentangling from the Darkness”, in which he meditates beautifully on Mary Oliver’s poem “Landscape”:

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive.

So far, I think (using the calculator function on my phone) that is 19,726 mornings. I google the question, “How many decisions per day?” and read:

According to multiple sources on the Internet, the average amount of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day equals about 35,000.

690,410,000 decisions and counting. My first thought is “No wonder I don’t want to decide where to have dinner or what book to read for book club.” I think of texting my younger friends and letting them know they haven’t used theirs up yet, so from now on they must choose – my decider is worn out from overuse.

My next thought, “How many of those ‘remotely conscious decisions’ were good ones? How many were ‘the right’ ones?” No function on my smartphone could ever calculate that number. This I know: it falls somewhere between 1 and 690,410,000.

That’s as far as math will take me; there’s no point in attempting to calculate the incalculable. There’s no point in lingering over that parade of worries that began its march through my head while I was still in bed this morning. Of the approximately 35,000 decisions I will make today, some will be good ones. Some will not. Mistakes will happen. Anxiety in advance and obsessive second-guessing afterwards won’t change that reality.

Like Wendy’s girls, I have a choice. I can hold the doors of my heart open so that my choices can be made from the place of infinite things (like mission, like compassion, like gratitude). Or I can close those doors, out of worry or indecision or just plain inattention, and be “as good as dead”, rendering my choices lifeless as well.

When I think of it this way I say: let my inevitable mistakes be life-affirming ones; let my errors of judgment emerge from seeing the best in others; let me work to stay centered enough that my infinite humanity, rather than my finite ego, decides. Choose; then move on.

19,726 mornings. And every morning, so far, I am alive.

 

 

 

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Sleepwalking Through Life

Some days it’s clear
So I can see it:
What to be and how to be it
But some days I wonder
And some days I doubt it
Today I’m hopeful I can knock it off tonight
This sleepwalking through my life
–Lyrics from Kevin Devine’s “Sleepwalking Through My Life

Not too long ago, my friend Kathe and I were having coffee. We’ve met for coffee often enough, and at such a variety of locations, I don’t really remember those details. What I remember is the conversation coming around to the years in our lives that each of us consider “lost” in some ways. And Kathe said, with quiet fierceness, “I feel like I don’t want to waste a minute of the time I have left. I know people – a 20 year old who got pneumonia and is still not out of the woods after a double lung transplant, a woman dying of metastatic cancer (she named several others facing major life issues). These are people I know, not just know of. I’m not waiting for anyone else to approve, I’m going to go for what I want. I don’t want to regret how I spent my time.”

A few years ago, I made some changes in my life that led to the feeling of having awakened from a dream. Those “lost years” were truly gone, having been spent in a haze and rush of doing without any real sense of purpose. When I woke up, I felt that same sense of urgency as Kathe – this life is too precious and too short to waste any more of it sleepwalking. Since then, I’ve made a pretty good effort at living mindfully, at consciously choosing. I’ve actively said “Yes” or “No” based on a picture of my life being about more than getting through it.

Then this winter happened.

This winter has been a difficult one for many; the weather extremes have made it so. I am far from alone in feeling that meeting the daily challenges presented have required a much larger portion of my energy than usual – a few minutes on Facebook convinces me of that. And it isn’t that I stopped making choices or living as consciously as possible. It’s that it has became harder to maintain a center or core of certainty. Harder to maintain a vision of where I hope to go, how I hope to impact this world. Some days, I feel like I’m on the right track, I’m acting in ways that are moving me forward. Other days, I simply feel lost.

On Tuesday, like much of the midwest, Minneapolis experienced a truly beautiful, warm day. I decided to head outside, and walked several miles through the downtown, over to the North Loop. Along the way, I reveled in the sunshine, stopping to take photos and observe the city and its people. I stopped at a little shop I know of that carries awesome postcards. I went to a combo bike/coffee shop I’d heard of but never frequented. I stopped for a few groceries at Whole Foods market. Then I began the trek home.

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook already know the story of what happened next:

I was standing on the sidewalk (about two feet back from the curb), waiting for the crossing light, when a woman came up beside me. She said, “Here in Minneapolis we don’t know what’s coming, but we try to make the best of it, right? My only hope these days is in God.” I nodded and smiled, having nothing to add. Then she said, “This light is really long, think I’ll go the other way. Good luck,” and she walked off. Not 15 seconds later, a bus cut the corner too close to the curb and splashed through a pond of melted snow and slush, completely drenching me from head to toe, like in the movies.

I freely admit that the incident was funny. I wish it had been seen by someone I know so we could laugh together about it. Or, better yet, captured on video so I could share it with you. Once I got over the initial sputtering indignity of it, I resumed my walk home. However, my mood was completely changed. Instead of the carefree, “in the moment” feeling of my meandering walk downtown, the way home became contemplative. First, I wondered about the woman who spoke to me. Was there a special message intended for me in her comment about not knowing the future, but trying to make the best of things? Was the drenching intended to wake me up? Have I been living too much in the moment, and not enough in the world of making the future happen? Have I spent the winter sleepwalking after all?

I didn’t come up with any answers on the long, wet walk home. And as I’ve wrestled with the idea of whether I’ve been “sleepwalking” through life too much this winter, I did an internet search and came across a site that said, “The nature of things is that sleeping implies waking: anything that sleeps wakes up.” I found that thought to be a comforting one. Like so much in life, perhaps there is a cyclical nature to sleeping/waking in terms of conscious living.

So, for now, I’ve decided to be as awake as I know how to be. Some days that will be easier than others. Some days, I will just enjoy “being” in the bright sunshine of the moment, others I will experience the cold drenching of a wake-up call. Mary Oliver writes  “As for life,I’m humbled, I’m without words sufficient to say how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond, both of these, and over and over…” Isn’t that the truth?