by Holly Mohr
“Plenty of time! Plenty of time! No breaking your neck to get things done before the next thing happens,” Thomas Merton chides (encourages?) from the pages of A Book of Hours.
I’m trying to get my courage up to believe him.
Strangely, “courage” does seem to be the right word. There are other struggles to believing him too, of course: my kneejerk inclination to insta-panic, for one.
But it does actually seem to require something like courage to assert to myself (and to the outside world) that the work at hand is actually the work to focus on, with peace, with full, deep breaths. And to assert that with love? It’s getting hard.
There’s such a pressure, isn’t there? Not only a pressure to hyper-perform (in all realms of life, let’s be honest—from work projects, to workout challenges, to kid activities, and on and on), but a pressure to be really stressed while doing those things. Hear me out.
Performing with excellence when it’s coupled with joy seems to arouse suspicion, somehow. (If you look too happy, you must not be working hard enough. If you have a positive attitude, it must be because you haven’t experienced enough of life yet).
I’ve taken to reminding myself that I’m allowed to enjoy things. Take my job, for instance. Yes, it can frequently feel like too much; yes, it’s connected to an institution that sometimes fractures my heart, but honestly, more often than not? I love my work. And on the days I have a jam-packed schedule, but I remind myself I’m allowed to enjoy what I’m doing, I often legitimately enjoy all (or at least many) of the tasks on my list.
On the days I remember to give myself permission for gratitude and joy, I’m much more likely to go home happy, maybe even energized, even after a twelve-hour workday. I have a friend who said she wakes up every morning and asks herself what she’s most excited for. I think that’s genius. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s also one of the most outwardly “successful” people I know (material success is far from my only or most treasured metric, but the fact that she has it AND a creative and joyful attitude tells me the two are not mutually exclusive).
I’ve been working on love. I am working on it, because in some ways, I have neglected to work on it for awhile now.
Somehow, in the past several years, I have become more efficient, and let me tell you, that has its upsides and its downsides. I can tell my personality is more palatable to some; I seem to have gained acceptance in some quarters I would not have previously imagined. I schedule most meetings for an hour, rather than an hour and a half; I tidy the kitchen every day, even when I’m exhausted; I co-manage a multifaceted, five-person schedule that includes two adults’ full-time jobs and activities, and three children’s school and personal lives. I have a far clearer sense of boundary in pretty much every dimension of life than ever before, and I get a LOT. Of stuff. DONE. I might even be mistaken for having a Type A personality in these years. Glance at my calendar, and it may appear as though I enjoy busy-ness for busy-ness’s sake.
I don’t believe in busy-ness, actually.
But I do care about cultivating a robust and meaningful life, on the one hand, and I’m compelled to earn a living on the other, so I’ve learned how to make a lot of stuff happen.
But in the midst of “getting stuff done,” as it were, I’m noticing that tenderness is getting more difficult for me. I used to think often of Thich Nhat Hanh’s invitation to “walk as though you are kissing the earth with your feet.” I have yet to remember that invitation while actually walking in years.
But I’m working on it. I’m at a point where the irony of working in a job where I create spaces of contemplative prayer for children and adults, then bringing my over-tired children to them screaming and crying (yes, all of us screaming and crying) is just a little too much irony. I am actively working on not only creating those physical spaces and catechetical lessons, but also investing real energy (again) in trying to be peace, be presence, to my children, to my husband, (to myself!).
Yeah, we’ll see how this goes tomorrow after school, when I try again to get my children to their Montessori-themed “education to hope.” Yes, the three-year-old may take off running just to piss me off; yes, she may stand up as soon as I get her in the car and deliberately pee down her leg just to see my reaction. It’s all possible. Maybe even likely. But I’ll be wearing my running shoes and prioritizing meditation in order to remind myself that interacting with her calmly is the work. Being the rock she can cling to in the midst of her storm is the practice.
The problem, of course, is that I keep mistaking the work for what I can schedule, or what other people need from me. Of course that’s work too, and often it’s necessary. Often it’s even supremely gratifying.
But I’m remembering back to the beginning of this mothering journey, twelve, almost thirteen years ago, when I was waking up to so much: to the fragility of another human needing me to care for supremely important, intimate things no one else sees, to a way of life based on peace and exploration. I think it’s significant that my early mothering years are the same ones in which I discovered yoga, Alice Waters, farmers markets and the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s when I started believing I could be part of creating another kind of world, one based on all the little choices that produce joy and trust and nonviolence and care.
The closing line of today’s Morning Prayer in my Give Us This Day implores, “May God guide our steps in the ways of peace and embolden us to bear Christ’s peace to the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Dear God, I need that boldness!
I kid with my husband that I’m fine with conflict but calling for pizza terrifies me. In maybe a similar way, my body and mind feel prepared to attack a goal with ferocity, working with focus and determination to make something happen. But the courage to be peace, to take a breath before pain, conflict, inefficiency? I need a new kind of boldness for that one.