Category Archives: mindfulness

Alone

Today is the third day of Lent — the forty non-Sunday days before Easter. For me, it is a period of intentional time dedicated to introspection and reflection. Like the silent, contemplative walks that I’ve recently enjoyed with my companion, I find a surprising amplification of this seemingly solitary practice when I am aware of the millions of people around the world who are similarly-focused.

This year, the United Methodist Church that I attend invited us to a Lenten practice of focusing together on one pre-determined word for each of the forty days. We were encouraged to share a photograph on social media each day that speaks to us of the word for that day. Eureka!  As someone who has struggled for months trying to develop a daily discipline and rhythm of writing, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I welcomed this opportunity to not only think about a visual image to represent the ‘word of the day’ but to also form a daily practice of writing about it. .

Today’s word is: ALONE. Admittedly, my first, visceral reaction was, well, “Yuck.” As someone who has been alone for nearly 2 1/2 years after being widowed, I winced at the word. Sure, I have a plethora of family, friends and a faith community that often fills my days. And I also spend a good portion of my time alone. ALONE. It carries a certain sadness in its five combined letters, doesn’t it? I can think of plenty of other words that I’d much rather focus on.

But here it is. ALONE. Okay, let’s give this a go.

As I sit in ALONE, reflect on ALONE, let ALONE wash over and seep into myself, I feel an unexpected lighten-ing within. I’m alone as I write this post. And, aside from the whirling sound of my washing machine as it enters the spin cycle downstairs, it is quiet. I am dry. I am warm. I am neither hungry nor thirsty. My heartbeat and breathing slow. I am calm.

I begin to wonder how many people at this very moment are in a place that is not at all quiet? How many people right now are not dry nor warm? How many are both hungry and thirsty? How many in a state of turmoil? How many would love to have a washing machine with a spin cycle? I feel them. Somehow, in this moment, I see them. I sense oneness with them, though our present circumstances couldn’t be more different.

In the confines of this house, with its roof and walls, sure, I’m alone. And yet, I can hear my next-door neighbor’s dog barking. I know that there are other people who are home right now in my neighborhood.

I wonder: Is there some arbitrarily-defined distance between one living being and another that somehow constitutes aloneness?

I often visualize a metaphorical river that runs beneath all things. A river of life. And all of us – people, animals, plants, insects, sea creatures, and organisms – have metaphorical roots that tap into the very same water source. I look up the word origin of ALONE on Dictionary.com and am stunned by the obvious. ALONE comes from the Middle English ‘al – one’; all (wholly) one.

Suddenly, my initial reaction of “Yuck” to the word, ALONE has been turned on its head. I am really not ALONE. You are really not ALONE. And yet, we are all (wholly) one – connected by the same river-waters into which our roots plunge. ALONE. It’s a great word!

“Then how can it be said I am alone

When all the world is here to look on me?”

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

And a Worm on the Sidewalk

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking in the mornings – not at all something unusual. Except that it is Wonderfully Unusual.

A friend recently invited me to join her in her new practice of intentional, silent, contemplative walking. Together. While this seemed to be a practice more suited for solitude, I was intrigued, and agreed to join her.

At first, it felt strange to walk silently next to someone with whom I actually wanted to be better acquainted. I have questions I want to ask her. I want to engage in one-one-one dialogue; of listening and sharing. Yet, in the thud-thud rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk and synchronized swish-swish of our rain-jacketed arms, I’ve noticed something completely unexpected. As we walk in silence I am keenly aware of a deep-calling-to-deep connection — a sacred journey of sorts — smack-dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. How profoundly powerful, to walk side-by-side with another person who, for those moments, has the same intention of being fully present.

As a spiritual seeker, I’ve developed a level of observation that often allows me to see the sacred, not only in nature, but in ordinary and often man-made things. Yet, I’ve noticed an accelerated deepening of my senses as I journey with my silent companion. Somehow, in this joint activity, I become more fully myself, with a heightened sense of awareness and ability to notice things that seem to be wanting to show themselves to me:

  • A plethora of well-chewed gum, stuck to a sign post at a neighborhood bus stop – a youthful statement of rebellion, as well as a desire to be noticed.
  • A bright red rocking chair in a garden clearing near the sidewalk – a sign of welcome and of radical hospitality.
  • A broken sidewalk – a powerful testament to the man-made concrete conceding to the God-made roots beneath it.
  • Three cherry trees, planted in a row, at the same time, in the same soil and light conditions. One of them in nearly-full bloom, another beginning to bud and the third still deep in its winter dormancy – each a reflection of the perfect balance of the wisdom found in diverse reactions to the same situation.
  • A child’s pedal-powered, 1950’s-era red metal car now parked in a garden and reimagined as a planter – embodying the passing of time and the sometimes-unwanted truth of the consistent presence of change in our lives.
  • And, a worm on the sidewalk – a tender reminder of the very moment I fell in love with my husband over 20 years ago when he rescued such a humble creature from a hot sidewalk and placed it carefully in someone’s garden.

Would I have noticed these things, had I been walking alone? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps so, yet I am quite sure that their message to me would have been more muddled, more abstract, less substantial.

And so we journey on. In this contemplative, companionable just-short-of-power-walking pace, the miracle of our need for each other plays itself out. Like the glorious frog-concert that was part of our recent walk past a neighborhood pond, we each sing in our silence a song of harmony and oneness.

Shhhhhh — listen – can you hear it?