Face to the Sky: Re-establishing a Practice
The last three weeks have been hectic. Fun, but hectic. Three weeks ago yesterday was graduation at Rollins, at which I was promoted to rank of professor emerita. That's a happy conclusion to a wonderful career. And so, officially, retirement should have begun on May 13, but it didn't quite happen as I had pictured it. The next two weeks were busy and emotional as I worked my way through twenty-four years of stuff in my office, throwing away, giving away, and moving what I could over to a smaller office on campus. On the heels of that came a week in the North Carolina mountains for celebration with friends. Late nights, rich food and drink, hilarious stories about forty-four years of teaching, and lots of lush, beautiful mountain scenery filled the week. I returned home on May 31 knowing it will take a long time to wrap my mind around the meaning of this very full month, this month that holds several clear markers of an end of a phase of life and a beginning of a new one. So when people ask me what does it feel like to be retired, I hardly know what to say. It's been busy!
But home for two days now with a new life ahead of me, I am settling back into my practice, which has been sorely disrupted during the past month. I consider yesterday, June 1, the first normal day of my retirement, my new life, my adventure into white space. And it was a good start. Didn't see anyone, talk to anyone, or do much. Thought a lot. Stared out the window often. Napped. Did some laundry. After a quick trip to the farmers' market, I prepped food. Played with the Dasher. Took her on several walks. It was a lazy day--thoughtful, quiet, unhurried. I felt grateful and free of expectations.
I know this is a time for re-fueling. I am depleted: forty-four years of tired. The body and the mind need to lay low. And even though I did make a June to-do list yesterday, my focus for right now is simple: to re-establish my morning practice. Here's how it goes:
1. First, up early. Usually at 5:30 or 6:00. Before light enters my inner sanctum, before the requirements of the world begin to excite me, I go to my cushion. I allow myself to sit with the silence and with the dark. Then, come the prayers and the gratitudes. I do not start a day without clear sense of four or five things I am deeply grateful for.
2. Next I take short cuddle with Dash, then downstairs to make a pot of coffee, a necessary accompaniment to my daily reading. I keep several books going at once, but always this early reading is focused on spiritual content. This week, I’m reading Lama Surya Das' new book, Buddha Standard Time. During this early morning reading session, I also read two magazines: Shambhala Sun and Tricycle, both on the foundations, practice, and applications of Buddhism.
3. And then at least 75 minutes of writing (a minimum of 750 words). I use a website called 750words.com, which is a good way to keep myself honest and consistent, and it tracks my production. Photographer Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” And that’s what a practice is: showing up and getting to work.
This morning ritual grounds me, soothes me, prepares me to receive the best version of life I'm ready to receive. As daylight fills my tiny back yard, the fountain bubbles into action and birds begin their morning rituals, too. And soon, Dash, who has been curled in a tight, sleepy ball next to me, wakes up, performs her first downward dog of the day, and gently places her paw on my thigh, a sign that she's ready to go out.
We step out to experience the sky for the first time--clouds in a backdrop of outrageous Florida color. It's a panoramic show that never gets old. I close my eyes and hold my face to it, reminded that I am small and my time short, but I, too, am a part of whatever mystery makes that sky so beautiful, so healing. I feel the moist air, release tension in my shoulders, and breathe gently. (Be in this moment, Lezlie. No rushing today.) I lift my arms high and hinge at the hips for a slow forward fold. The sore back eases, the hamstrings let go.
But yesterday, I noted a shift in this last part of the morning ritual. The forward fold, a necessity to ease a chronic back pain, became a deep bow. Instead of a therapeutic move, it became an offering. I bow in gratitude. I bow in honor of the day I've been given. I bow with respect to the creative force that moves, in, through, and around us always. This is the beginning of a new life.
What is your morning practice? Can you fine-tune it this month? Re-dedicate yourself to the process? We all suffer lapses in our practice: life happens—retirements, deaths, illness, deadlines. But we must not let the urgencies of the outside overwhelm the yearnings of the inside. Don’t let a rough period derail your mission to nurture your creative spirit. Remind yourself that devotion to a practice can lead you more deeply to your LifeArt.
Thanks for checking in with me today at the LifeArt Studio. And remember, face to the sky.