This pesky vision keeps popping into my head: it’s a little house at nighttime. Its outer walls look blue in the twilight, but they might be any color. The windows are yellow with light from within. Around the house there is space and sweet smelling grass and trees; inside the house there are teacups and a fireplace. From here, it is the picture of stillness and security.
“You have to let this mopey energy go,” my partner calls to me from across our studio apartment. I groan to let him know I know he’s right, but I roll over on the bed to face the wall instead of getting up. It’s been a week since we returned to Madrid from our most recent travel adventure–a day in Heidelberg, a day in Frankfurt, two days in Cologne, and three days in Amsterdam. It was a great trip, but I’ve been a little off ever since.
“It’s understandable,” says my partner. He reminds me about something the Dalai Lama said about traveling—that it takes his soul a little while to find his body again when he’s journeyed a great distance in a short amount of time. “Like a GPS signal when you’ve been offline,” my partner adds.
My soul GPS signal does feel a little scrambled these days.
I’m feeling tired, and I want it to navigate me home, but it can’t find the address. All that comes up is that infuriating Try again later error message.
And as uncomfortable as it is, I suppose it is fascinating what my mind does in response. It’s the mental equivalent of hitting the elevator button 18 times as if that’s going to make things go any faster. No—it’s actually even more counterproductive than that.
“I’m really trying,” I tell my partner, making a great show of sitting up on the bed. Look, I’ve had a shower, and I’ve gotten dressed. I know I need to get out in the sunlight today. I know I need to write a blog post. And normally these are things I like to do, but…
“Now what are you thinking?” he asks me.
“How did you know I was thinking?!” Thinking. Planning. Turning puzzles of the future over in my head. One of the benefits (?) of being with this person for six and a half years is that he can tell the instant my thoughts veer off into the woods when I was supposed to stick to the path.
It’s not like I’m not allowed to have whatever thoughts I will in my own home, it’s that we’ve just listened to a TED Radio Hour podcast about the simplicity of happiness. The first segment was about a researcher whose findings show that people are far happier when they are engaged in whatever they are presently doing (even when it’s something they don’t want to be doing) and are far less happy when their minds wander (no matter what their minds wander to).
“I know! I know I know I know.”
How many times and by how many wise teachers can I be told that the secret is to be in the present moment?
But how? How when this picture of this house keeps showing up in my mind and making me feel sad? Why am I feeling bad? Why can’t I just enjoy being in Madrid? I’m longing for the feeling of that house. But I’ve got another year and a half of traveling dreams to let happen before I can think of that. And then I’ll need to know where I want to live. Will the drinking water be safe in North Carolina with all the fracking? Is it wise to invest in a life in a place with such troubling politics? But where else can I go? Wherever I find work. What will my life’s work be? [I spend a few hours looking up grad school programs.] Can I picture my daily life in a new profession? Will I like that? That’s two more years, and then I’ll have to find work, and then find a house, and it’s going to take me so long to plant my roots again and feel the stillness!
Phew! Sorry you had to see that, but this is the kind of chatter I’m working with here.
There are certain spells, snits, tizzies, and problems you just can’t think your way out of.
It’s like the lesson of the Hanged Man in the Tarot: stop struggling and you’ll be free. There’s wisdom close at hand if you can stop grasping for it. So I am left to feel my way out…or to feel my way into the present.
I manage to get myself out of the apartment. To be fair, it is more difficult to find stillness when living in a city. The plaza is beautiful but bustling and the sun is setting soon. The café has plenty of open tables when I get there, but it fills up quickly, so I am obliged to give up my seat. Finally, I find my way to a church I stepped inside once before. Normally I feel closer to the divine when I’m in nature than when I’m in a grand Catholic church, but right now this is a quiet and still place.
So I sit, and I am quiet and still. I feel the knot I’d tied in my head loosen. I feel the knot I’d tied in my head. I close my eyes and feel my own walls that could be any color in the twilight. I feel a little glow from within.
Oh, right. This is the work. This is what I’m doing here.