"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Be still: Learning that life is not all about doing, but being. A lap cat helps.

By on August 29, 2017 in Articles with 0 Comments

Susan Blair: Learning what mattered in life was that what mattered to her.

By Susan Blair

“Just BE,” my friend Joy said some 20 years ago, “in the silence.”
She sat in the silence every morning, often writing in her journal as inspiration visited her, with the intention of deepening her spirituality and creativity.
As my mentor, she exhorted me to develop this practice as well. She urged me to slow down. She reminded me that, “we are human beings, not human doings.”
I resisted — and not all that silently, either. “But I have so much to do!” I wailed to her. “I can’t waste time doing nothing.”
I had a full-time job in a federal human resources office, a part-time job teaching aerobics and other workout classes, an “occasional” job presenting professional training, a yard full of plantings (and weeds) that seemed to grow before my very eyes, and oh yes, the normal and usual household chores.
Convinced as I was that my value as a person and a wife lay in how much I accomplished in a day, and because my paycheck was considerably smaller than my husband’s, I felt I needed to earn my keep by doing. Always be doing, getting things done.
On the first day of a new work schedule dictated by the new boss, I found myself with an extra hour in the morning between seeing my husband off at 6:30 and taking my shower. What should I do? Clean something? Organize a closet? Dust?
I decided to experiment with Joy’s recommendation.
After the good-bye kiss, I poured a cup of coffee and settled in my favorite chair, feet up on the ottoman. Bingo! Katya was in my lap, and I swear she’d started purring before her feet left the floor. We sat together in the almost-silence (reference the rumbling kitty motor) as I pet her, sipped my coffee and daydreamed.
I use the word “daydreamed” loosely because most of my thoughts swirled around how much I hated my full-time job. The stress of being overqualified, underutilized and undervalued gnawed at me daily.
I know now that my emotional toolbox lacked the implements with which to handle this stress. I couldn’t find the humor in the situation. All I could do at the time was seethe and grieve.
But with a cat cuddled in my lap and the two of us sharing the love, my energy for seething and grieving diminished. That’s what I discovered as I repeated this exercise the next morning, and the next, and the next.
Yes, of course I had to repeat it: Katya expected me to. She would sit by our chair, waiting patiently yet pointedly, issuing her polite order. Her regal authority demanded obedience — and I had, after all, named her after the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. (Besides, as every owner can tell you, cats have never forgotten how they were worshipped in ancient Egypt, and continue to this day to consider such reverence their due.)
My experiment became practice; my practice became ritual.
Every morning I’d be in my special spot, sometimes reading, sometimes writing, sometimes simply enjoying the view of my elegant living room.
In springtime my view extended through the French doors to the purple wisteria draping the arbor and crimson rhododendrons bordering the deck. Bushtits and chickadees at the feeder would entertain me, and if I were alert and lucky, I’d see a hummingbird.
On dark winter mornings I’d arrange candles on the coffee table opposite my chair and light them, often foregoing the reading lamp in order to bask in the soft coziness.
In the calm quiet I created beauty and reveled in it, and as I did so, I experienced an ever-increasing sense of peace. I was safe, I was relaxed. There was no hidden agenda, no office strife, no interpersonal drama. I grew to value my own company, to honor my own thoughts and sensations.
My attitude about mattering changed: it didn’t “matter” if I “mattered” at work; what “mattered” was that I “mattered” to me. I was taking care of my Self, myself.
I learned that to “be in the silence” surrounded by beauty on a regular basis was like taking vitamins for the soul.
I quit that job 12 years ago, and four years ago we moved into a new house in a different city. My schedule has changed, but I have maintained my early-morning ritual.
I start each day in my chair with coffee, cat and candles. Katya, bless her, is still with me. Most of the time I read, sometimes I write, sometimes I simply sit in the silence and enjoy the view while my husband is elsewhere in the house, pursuing his own tradition.
It’s a different chair, and the view is different, too, but the profound sense of peace is the same. Yes, I “be.”

Susan Blair is a Wenatchee writer and poet (and is known as “Perri The Poetry Fairy” in local elementary classrooms).

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