Sunday, September 26, 2010

Beside the Still Waters

"And I promised to change my priorities. You see, I think that the whole concept of happiness changed for me. When I was in the jungle, I read - and it comes many times in the Bible - it says that when you cross the valley of tears and you arrive to the oasis, the reward of God is not success, it's not money, it's not admiration or fame, it's not power - his reward is rest."

This is from an interview I heard on npr with Ingrid Betancourt, who spent six years in the jungle as a prisoner of a Colombian rebel group. She's speaking about her perspective when she was finally freed.

Now, normally I try to avoid such tales of horrible torture and misery, but npr is sneaky because they just shuffle these things in right after the jolly, gentle-mocking-of-current-events show. (An aside: It's surprising how hard it is to avoid media/entertainment/time-passers that have violence and ugliness at their center. I told the bookseller at the used bookstore that I didn't want any books where horrible things happen and she looked at me like I was asking if they sold diapers. Yes, I know you need conflict in a story, but does it have to be non-stop murder and adultery? It seems like a failure of imagination. Love and death, is that all these writers can come up with? What about those of us who want a happy little escapist jaunt of reading, not a profound treatise that will shake our conception of life as we know it? The bookseller ended up handing me a volume of chick lit (which I had already read, incidentally), but isn't there a middle ground between saying you don't want a book that will hang a little gloom cloud over your head and saying you do want a shallow book about shopping and hair dye? OK, diatribe over.)

Anyway, I think that aside is tangentially related to the point I was hoping to get at which is: rest. I was struck by Betancourt's comment that what she wanted out of life after six years of unimaginable suffering, was (in addition to cake and ice cream), rest.

I can relate to this desire. After The Year Of Bad Things Happening, I remember telling my spiritual advisor that what I wanted more than anything was just to lie down. Physically, of course, but also, you know, on a deeper level. And actually, the word I used at the time was lay down, and that was accurate too. I wanted to lay down my arms. I was tired from keeping by guard and my hackles up all the time, waiting for the other shoe to drop, the constant red alert. At the time I even printed out the 23rd psalm and taped it up by my pillow, replacing the word Lord with the word Love because, you know, jury's still out.

I wonder if this urge to rest after a valley of shadow is a common phenomenon. I am thinking of the lovely Slow Love Life blog and book, about a woman whose life came down in a spectacular crash, and how it changed her perspective. Once out on the other side, she didn't even want her fast-paced, high-powered job back. She wanted to putter in the garden, live at the beach, watch the sky.

And I can so relate to that. I was thinking about my priorities recently, and the one that came out on top was just, rest. I want to sleep 8, 9, 10 hours a night! I don't want to rush around in the morning, cramming a bagel into my mouth as I run for a bus. I don't want to be one of those Women On-the-Go you see in commercials. I want to be a Woman At Rest. I want to water my plants, cut out pictures of things I like from shelter magazines and catalogs. I want to re-read Jane Austen and novels about make-up artists to the stars. The past two weekend nights, my nightlife centered around the procurement and ingestion of ice cream. And I like it that way!

In some ways this goes against everything I believe in. A part of me would prefer it if I could be productive 25 hours a day. I give myself gold stars for organizing the tupperware and paying bills and learning new vocabulary words, and a part of me wouldn't be satisfied until I'm publishing sonnets from the top of Mt. Everest while giving life advice to Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama while skiing backwards. And even then, I would be thinking, "I should be doing jumps."

On some level, it's good not to be satisfied, because it pushes you forward, gives you goals to aim toward. On the other hand, never to be satisfied? How sad.

I wanted to be a fascinating and adventurous artist, perhaps, or an early Bob Dylan singer/songwriter selling stories of the vagabond life, or a Jane Goodall communing with the gorillas. I didn't think I wanted to be someone whose blood pressure got up for the Home Organizing Aides aisle of Target (which it totally did yesterday, by the way, I loved it.)

And then I've got that German Orthodox/American Puritan work ethic/guilt, and was told from an early age that I was bright and capable, and got hooked on grades and awards and achievements and other external measures of "enoughness". And when the other shoe dropped, when it got down to the wire, when the chips hit the fan, know what that stuff did for me? All of diddly squat.

So here I am. One faction wants Barack Obama and whoever the prime minister of England is now to crown me Queen of the Free World and give me that golden admission ticket to the chocolate factory of full of Chosen Ones. (Little known fact, Homeland Security owns 4 golden tickets, the fifth is rumored to be in North Korea.)

And another part of me just wants to chill here in the green pastures and restoreth my soul a little, achieve nothing more than a nap, and be satisfied with all the things I already have.

2 comments:

Oscar said...

Eckhardt Tolle! More Eckhardt Tolle!

Oscar said...

By which I mean, yes, green pastures, restoreth-ing, napping and satisfaction. xxoo