Lately I've been trying to give myself permission to rest and be imperfect. To not finish everything on my to do list. To putter and do a project that isn't the highest priority. To risk disappointing people (even disappointing myself). To remember what it is to stop. To really stop.
Don't get me wrong: like you, I work hard and get a lot done. Like you, I'm very responsible to the many people who depend on me at home, at work, in the world (as best I can be - it's a big world!). Like you, I am sad that things aren't better and frustrated and upset that so many have to suffer in ways that seem so unnecessary given the resources of our world. Like you, I dream of a better day and a better world.
But not today. Sometimes we need to rest. I forget this often. But it's true. We need to stop sometimes. Really stop.
So yesterday when my wife went off to the rally on immigration policy I stayed home to putter in the garden.
I was re-doing a little garden pond that had been neglected for the last few years while I've been running around and working, working, working. The fish are long gone (raccoons?) and the aquatic irises had expanded like crazy clogging up the whole muddy mess. It was starting to smell bad.
A whole truckload of irises went off to the municipal compost, the water replaced, a new pump installed (and now I understand - finally! - how to prime the pump with water so it works properly and quietly), the at last the pond was circulating again. The water still a little cloudy but not nearly so thick and murky. And at last I sat quietly on the bench reading a friend's memoire listening to the falling water in my tiny waterfall. My back a bit tired, my jeans filthy, and my heart, for the moment, at rest.
The world didn't stop while I did this. There are still 2,000 migrant children in detention separated from their parents. My task system still sent it's daily email about undone items. I was still tired after a very full first half of the year.
My tasks as the Wendell Berry poem below says "lay where I left them, asleep like cattle."
And yet I could feel that this moment of peace wasn't self-indulgent or lazy. I could feel that this stopping has it's own importance and power - it's own way of rippling out into the world. Stopping doesn't matter in the same way getting important things done matters. It matters in a different way. And somehow in my heart I deeply felt that it matters a lot in it's own way.
Not just to sustain me and patch me up and get me back into the battle either. Stopping has it's own value. It's hard to speak about this clearly as our language seems to be all oriented around how much there is to do. There's also "non-doing" to do, perhaps that's close enough. And that non-doing matters.
I hope this summer that you can stop from time to time. Really stop. Our lives, and our world, need us rested up. There is work to do. And non-work to do.
Wendell Berry - from Sabbath Poems
I go among the trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
The day turns, the trees move.