Thinking Long Thoughts: Where to Go From Here

The ephemeral mist that comprises human life has once again nudged my consciousness. A dear friend of mine, a mere 5 years my senior, was found dead at his desk this Wednesday. No warning. No diagnosis. No symptoms. To all appearances, a man in perfect health in the prime of life. The shock to all of us who loved him is palpable; our loss is real.

Photo of trees in the mist, a reminder of how short life can be and the need to choose happiness now, not to wait until circumstances are just right.

Thinking about what’s truly real and substantive as opposed to what passes for real in this life is an interesting, even vital exercise in verifying the “true North” of one’s own internal compass. In my own case, checking and replying to email, other “busy” work at the computer, endless errands, business demands of a busy publishing house, marketing, writing books, newsletters, even keeping up with this blog, while necessary, are just what passes for real. While there is substance, necessity, and function in all those tasks, they’re just that—tasks—not who I am, not what defines me. Indeed, perhaps you can relate to the fact that those tasks and to-do-lists can actually distract me from being fully present in my own life. I am so intent on getting things done, checking things off my list, getting things resolved, squared away, settled, that sometimes a whole day can pass without me even noticing the warmth of the sun on my face, the caress of a cool breeze, the relaxed repose of a belly full of warm vegetables, the peace of a slow, purposeful breath, the sound of the birds outside singing their songs for any audience willing to listen.

I am reminded of a favorite poem by William Stafford. It’s a poem about getting out of our busy mind and dropping back into our body, our senses, and our awareness of the beauty all around us. It’s a powerful reminder that each of us collects and curates our own experiences in this life and that we get to choose what we focus on, where we put our energy, and whom we connect with. Take a deep breath in the beauty of your own life, be fully present, and enjoy.

You Reading This, Be Ready
by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Don’t wait for “time to show you some better thoughts.” So often, we wait for the perfect circumstances to come around, thinking that only then I can be happy. But permission to be happy is as close as your next breath. Our breath connects us to the universe, and to the sea of our fellow human beings. And we have an ever-so-finite number of them at our disposal. Turn around, start here, and be fully present in your own life and to those you love. That’s what I want to remember for today.

Photo of how sunlight creeps along a shining floor, inspired by a line from a poem by William Stafford on focusing on the important things and people in life, especially in the face of grief and loss.

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