Every morning, rain or shine, weekend or workday, I start my day the same way. I raise myself out of bed around 7am, switch on my laptop, make a cup of tea, and with a cup of Lipton brew in hand I walk my dog Smokie in the hills nearby.
Up until last summer, Smokie, with nose to the ground, would zigzag through the tall grass, flagging his long tail, not content to meander at my slow pace. Being a Chocolate Lab, he loved weaving though the open country. But Smokie turned twelve years old last April, and he’s slowing down. Now it is I who must crawl along at his slow pace.
A few mornings ago, as we trudged up the first hill, I watched Smokie’s stiff, painful looking movements, and I was reminded that this is probably our last summer together. The thought saddened me, even reminded me that my own death is drawing nearer. At that moment, I was bombarded with thoughts of all that I want to accomplish before my time comes to an end. The list is endless, maddening so.
Eventually, I remembered to relax and stop trying to control everything, and then the morning flowed like a lazy river, that is, Smokie and I and the trail became one.
Tall dry grass carpets the meadows, the hills are covered with lumbering oak trees, the crisp air had a hint of sweetness, and the meadowlark’s three-ascending-note song echoed from the trees. This landscape touched my heart with its clattering streams and glistening pastures, and swallows me whole with its fathomless, uncomplicated open space. It was grand being alive and able to share it with Smokie on such a morning. A feeling of gratitude washed through me like a sea-surge.
With Smokie loping along beside me, passing through the quiet buttery light, the moment came when I grew aware of a stillness that was something apart from the stillness of the landscape. It was an interior stillness at my core, a stillness in which there was the absence of all distraction and unrest, a tranquility in which, quietly and without effort, all things melded together. Without shining my thoughts onto it, I knew this stillness was exactly what I try to achieve while meditating. It was a state from which it seems natural, even inevitable, to touch those close to me, to revere the splendor of life, to pray.
Through this inner stillness, a quote from Stewart Lewis’s second novel, Relative Stranger, bubbled up to my thoughts:
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
In this state, I came to terms with a new direction in my life, this curve to a radically different approach to being. I began casting off those items on my to-be-accomplished list, littering the trail with dreams and making myself be content with nothing more than sharing the hillside with Smokie and fully enjoying our time together. When we returned home, I focused that same attention into being with my husband, Herman. And as I sit composing at my laptop, I give my writing the same approach.
I will, of course, continue to write my novels and screenplays, and I’m certain I will continue to publish my work. But my goals have changed. Now I work solely to enjoy the process of creating.
I came to this attitude with a certain amount of regret, which has now metamorphoses into quiet gratitude. It is certainly not what I expected; a life with no grand ambitions has come with several surprises, but none greater than the surprise at my own contentment.