While cleaning my office this morning I found an old journal called Gratitude: A Journal. It actually says that on its salmon-colored cover and spine. According to the first entry, I got it in July 2009—and as I now recall, I got one for me, one for my mom, and one for my sister—at a time when we were all deeply worried about my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
I’m only about 15 pages into its 200-ish blank pages. Not that that means I’ve only been grateful 15 times in the past 4 years. It’s lack of use has to do with the journal’s postcard size. It’s too small for me to write comfortably in—in my wending and exploring-the-mystery style.
Or maybe that’s not a problem. Because I now notice what this journal is actually good for. When I occasionally find it again, it’s a great place for creating a Top 10 Things I’m Grateful for Right Now list.
I picked it up and felt compelled to do this, so I sat down with it and wrote down the first 10 things that came into my mind. Here’s what was on my mind that moment:
- Stories and articles shared by women friends
- Friends who want to be interviewed for our new book
- Eva the dog
- The cats
- Writing + my laptop + iPad
- Green tea, especially matcha
- Hearing about the lives of friends and family
- Planet Earth
- Daniel and Bas
I looked back at my old lists. It’s fascinating how a top 10 grateful list changes with time. What stays important. What shifts.
In mine, friends are always mentioned, as are pets, writing, Daniel, and some form of beverage (last year I was thankful for Chai tea lattes).
My parents and sister are mentioned almost every time as well.
Bas you were mentioned in both 2011 and 2012 as well. I think that means you have become family.
Housemates, coworkers, and other friends, new and old, are mentioned periodically as well. I tend to be thankful for those I’m living and working with that moment.
I also tend to be thankful for the weather—interestingly, whatever weather it happens to be at the moment I’m writing. Sunshine, fog, or rain, I’m grateful for it when I’m writing.
So the things that persist over time and appear again and again in these lists must be what I’m most grateful for. What matters most to me.
I’m moving into a new phase of my life right now: a massive paring down phase. A phase in which I’m more deeply aware of what matters to me and prioritizing what matters most—giving what matters most a lot more space and letting other things go.
This summer I’ve let go of all work commitments that I don’t have energy for anymore. And after a flurry of traveling in early summer, since then I’ve been very still. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to do anything. Well, not nothing. I want to sit. I want to write. I want to listen to the silence and the wind blowing through the trees. Play with the pets. Watch SciFi. Make matcha smoothies. Walk beside the ocean.
Our society has many negative words associated with this period I’ve been in that I could accept if I chose to: Procrastination. Laziness. Sloth. Depression.
But that’s not what this is.
This is Stillness. Reflection. Fallow time. Part of Wayfinding.
This is what I needed after I lost myself this spring and no amount of busy-ness, flailing, or complaining my way out worked.
What I really needed to do was notice.
Notice what matters to me now.
Notice where I fit now. Notice what I am.
And then to become ok, again, simply with what is.
To notice and become ok again, I need stillness, reflection, fallow time. The bigger the change, the more I need.
Back in April I was full of guilt and apology for needing this space and time. But August me, the new me, took the time, without guilt and with very little apology. Without thinking there is something wrong with me for changing or for needing what I need. My fallow time was time well spent.
I now know that I always have time for writing and story gathering. Always time for Daniel, Eva, and the cats. Always time for play. Always time for tea or coffee.
I noticed that many things that used to bring me a great deal of joy just don’t anymore. Some were easy to let go of–like work that was clearly not for me anymore. And some things—in particular, taking care of our large home and yard and garden—are much harder to let go of. This work has been a huge part of me the past 12 years. This was work I happily took on in 2002 when I bought this house, gleefully took on even more of when I leapt away from the corporate world in 2007, and joyfully took on even more of when I turned our home into a Coworking space in February 2012.
What does it mean for us that taking care of our home, yard, and garden don’t bring today-me the joy that they used to? Is it time to sell the house? Find a caretaker? Allow Mother Nature to take back her yard? Close the Coworking space? Is it time to hit the road—packing Daniel, Eva, Bella, Batman, and Joe up to go with me?
I just don’t know.
I don’t know.
And what’s really interesting about right now is that I notice that this new me doesn’t want to solve this not knowing.
I don’t want to experience this not knowing as a problem, so I’m not.
I’m ok with not knowing. I’m ok.
I know what matters most to me now. I have it within my power to give what does matter all the time and space it needs. So why would I want to get rid of this precious “I don’t know” too quickly? I am the person with five intentionally empty shelves in her 6-shelf office bookcase, because I love the openness and mystery of blank space even more than I love books.
My I don’t know allows me to become an empty shelf, become the possibility, become the mystery that I love.
I don’t know means that I am aware, reflecting, changing, and open to what shows up next.
I may not know where I’m going or exactly what I’m doing next—I may never know—but I know who and what I’m taking with me.
That’s more than enough.
Thank you Lori. I have also discovered the clarity of “not knowing.” A dear friend in Texas sent your link to me this morning. She was apparently reading COLLECTIVE SELF when I text’d her about my evening of watching 10 episodes of a sci-fi series based on a
Stephen King novel.
I’m sitting under a canopy of polk salad bushes in an ivy lawned back
yard of a home I’ve rented for 12 years near the Anacostia River. A hot cup of earl grey tea complimented a fruit smoothie. Delicious! I have to move soon. Not just from the backyard but from my home. For know, I will finish the rest of the smoothie that’s cooling in a mixer in the frig, reheat the tea, continue reading THE FILM CLUB by David Gilmour and relish this midday Sunday afternoon.
Hello Charles, is it Under the Dome that you’ve been watching? Me too. 🙂
Sometimes it is better NOT to know than to know, This fact could trigger the curiosity to know, it could hide unforgeable reasons for long-term pain and to drop unimportant things that we want to keep even if they are useless to us.
This is a good situation to be in sometimes. We know to give it the time and space (spacetime) to grow and to change our realizations.
Age is time and it impacts our maturity and interests accordingly.
I am sure you shall reach a new peak during this period for different experiences give us different perspectives.
Hi Ali, it’s so nice to see your face. I’ve been ill, which is why I was slow to respond. You are wise. And it seems like logically, most days, I understand that it is often better not to know. To stay with the not knowing and treat it like a friend. On this particular subject, though, I am impatient to know. I suppose this means that this is a terrific spot for me to linger in and learn through, but somehow knowing that, in this case, just that doesn’t make that much any easier. 🙂