“Just because you didn’t put a name to something did not mean it wasn’t there.”
― Jodi Picoult,
Travels within the phases of life. I have no idea when Part 2 or 3 or anymore will arrive but it just seems like this is a Part 1. I find myself in a mix of darting thoughts about family, friends, possessions, my current role with my kids and others, my personality and everyone else’s.
The ritual of graduation was the subject of a short debate, to walk or not to walk. Nellie Evans didn’t make a lot of request of her kids to do things they weren’t keen on, but this ritual felt very important as there were so few in their lives. She felt it important for her youngest to claim her spot as a scholar as she had worked hard at being a student and it was important to Nellie for her youngest to be honored just as her eldest had been. The ceremony of honoring all the work done and an acknowledgment of a path that will curve and change, wind back and go forward was of consequence and not likely to be forgotten. Nellie felt it important to hold the significance of this ritual even when her daughter wasn’t so sure it was that “big of a deal” and even with the complaining about the dreaded and mandatory suffering of a 3.5 hour long ceremony.
The graduating daughter decided to walk, pleasing her father, Nellie and maybe herself. With this graduation came a celebratory backyard BBQ with cousins, and friends. They were people known to Nellie and unknown. Some socialized in ways that she wouldn’t and others she felt quite comfortable with. All the while, having a propensity for seriousness, her mind kept being drawn to the nagging question of what really mattered?
Nellie’s perspective had shifted and changed about how she held people, places, and things. People who she held very close, she now felt the relief of distance from, others remained very close and she found great fulfillment in the connection. Things that had felt so very very important to her really didn’t matter now and that was strange. But not so strange that she would want to do anything about it other than watch it.
What really mattered? The move from the West Coast to the Midwest gave her pause to think about all the things that had transpired since April when she started the road trip East. She thought about the relationships that were transforming without knowing how they would look, the artwork which she sorted through that was inherited and valuable, some she stored, some she sold. There was the furniture which passed from one generation to the next and now outfitted her two daughter’s homes as well as a few friends’. The jewelry was held safely in a family jewelry box waiting to be chosen by the daughters. And placed around the jewelry box for padding and protection were the wonderful sofa pillows that were made by Nellie’s mother.
Life as she had known it was now memories and the trip to the Midwest seemed something of a karmic sorting. At least that was how she could make sense of it. It brought to mind Harry Potter’s sorting hat and she wished she could just don it and know what group she belonged with whenever she doubted or feared.
The letting go of so much of this became Nellie’s job along with trying to figure out what matters? Who matters? Which memories would get lost in the letting go, which would remain, how close would those memories be held by the upcoming generation and how close to the truth would they come and did that matter? What relationships would hold and what would drift away?
Of the many things that had changed, was Nellie’s need for an aesthetically pleasing environment. She had been a person who couldn’t be too long in surroundings that didn’t suit her aesthetic or around people very different from herself. She liked things and relationships to be copacetic, and beautiful to be around. She had been known to talk about things in her surroundings that didn’t look right and how those things made her mind work too hard or hurt her eyes. Her home had been of great pride, making it warm, inviting, and easy on the eyes. She grew up with that and felt it the quality of being a good enough mother to help her kids carry it forward into their homes wishing them a comfortable life.
She currently resided in a wonderfully roomy room in a house and though the aesthetic was not what she might have picked, it had grown on Nellie. It gave her comfort in that she did not have to start accumulating things to decorate her living space by purchasing again all the things she had just let go of. The dark maroon of the 4 walls at first looked just dark, but now she saw it as Buddhist maroon and took comfort in that. The color fed her spiritual need for a partial monastic life. She found she was opening to things and people she would have judged and not come very close to in her past, though those who knew her would say she was always a very open person. This move had shown her how much more open she could be.
“Give up your homeland— this is the practice of Bodhisattvas.” This is because the moment you leave the circumstances you’ve grown accustomed to, you are in foreign territory, and it’s easier to realize how much narrow-mindedness you are carrying around, including all your opinions, judgments, habits, and so on. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. By Dawa Tarchin Phillips, the resident teacher of the Santa Barbara Bodhi Path Buddhist Center and the Director of Education for the Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential at UCSB.
All in all, she continued to ask if any of the aesthetics or “right” people to be around really mattered? If it did, what part mattered? And, why? Sometimes she could see her life and what matters fitting so nicely in a room like the one she had stayed in at Spirit Rock Silent retreats. The rooms were simple, some might say barren. The 125 square foot room contained a sink, a few towels, a large window, a small place for clothes, a single bed, a small table with a lamp and a clock on it, That was it and it seemed to Nellie that it was complete. Upon arriving for a retreat, she would position the small table by her bed, and make the bed so she could look out the window and see the greenery. She went to the retreats for the silence and so she only got to know people and be in relationship to them in a very particular and peculiar way. At the end of a 7 or 9 night retreat, and silence was broken, she was always wondering who of the 90 or so people she would want to know more about. She paid careful attention to the instruction given at the end about how to break silence, who to speak to while being mindful, questions she could expect from friends outside the retreat, and how to drive home safely. Sometimes, the awkwardness of starting to talk just gave her more permission to be quiet.
Towards the end of a Fall retreat, the final silent meal, she broke into hysterics with a dining companion over a silly hat a participant had chosen to wear. The hat had eyes that peered at her and a top knot of sorts, that ordinarily might have only made her smile. But these circumstances put the three of them in fits of gaiety which they attempted to make into silent laughter with little success. Finally, they left the dining hall to arrive outside and let blow the laughter barely contained inside each of them. All the while she thought about the laughing Buddha, just to give herself permission to fully feel the hysterics bursting in her.
Finding herself in a new phase of life, Nellie’s questions about importance got bigger and bigger. All the things that had meant so much to her seemed to not be all that important. All the judgments of others was still somewhat there, but less so. She found herself quieter in her thoughts, quieter in her interactions, and she thought more accepting of what is, at least some of the time.
In a tongue in cheek way, she actually wondered if she was dying. She would exclaim, shouting in her head, “Well of course I am! We all are dying, just some of us seem a bit closer by way of age than others.” She wondered if she was psychic and in fact, her life was coming to an end. Or maybe she was just in a new phase of letting go by way of looking at what really, truly matters?
She grew up with people who held onto everything and all of it seemed to matter a lot. Even as they approached the end of their lives and left lots for the upcoming generation, it all mattered. She felt a bit different from that. In fact, she was different from that but carried the collector DNA which she constantly fought.
She was very curious about how all of this would land, what her life would look like in 5 years. What country would she find herself in? What language would she speak? When would she arrive there? And who would she be in relationship with? She found herself thinking of Donald Evans, an incredibly creative artist who made up countries and postage stamps for the countries. She always wanted to travel to his countries, she always wanted to know him and hear how he thought.