The Path to an Empty Bench

 

Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography
Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

Within each of us, I think, whether we acknowledge it or not, is a secret hidden corner. It’s that place that we enter when life is floating along on a soft current and are able to move with it on auto-pilot. Like an empty park bench in a quiet garden, it is a contented place where the pulsing noise quiets a bit and our soul breathes deeply, fully. It is a sacred space that’s not so much a place, really, as it is a sensation or a feeling, I suppose.

It is no idyllic Garden of Eden, however. Troubles and heartache still exist, but somehow when we’re in this place, sitting on the empty park bench, problems seem tolerable and manageable, almost as if they belong there too.

I have noticed, with increasing frequency lately, that I fail to give this bench the attention and appreciation it deserves until the path to it becomes so cluttered and bogged down that I can’t find it anymore. When life gets messier, stickier. It is only then, when I’m groping in the dark for the door to this quiet place in my mind, that I realize how much I appreciate that empty bench.

I’ve written a bit about the ways in which the past several weeks have been one of transition and adjustment and moving on. In some ways, the transitions have been obvious – a new school year, new season, new work commitments. In other ways, the changes have been less obvious, almost unrecognizable. Like a soft boil, there has been a discreet and subtle shift going on inside of me with emerging ideas and changing perspectives. Big Questions that have no easy answers. Shifting priorities and changes of heart.

The source and rationale for these subtle changes is still a bit mysterious, even to me. Although glimpses of understanding occasionally appear, like the remnants of a foggy dream in early morning light, they slowly come into focus only to suddenly disappear. And like a teenager with gangly limbs and bony elbows, I feel clumsy and awkward, bumping into people and things without a clear sense of direction. A bit disoriented and lost, I’ve felt unsure of where I belong and desperate to alleviate the growing pains that accompany these kinds of emotional shifts.

Lacking the tools to smooth the rough edges, minor stresses of everyday life sharpen to a pointed tip and, before I know it, jagged edges are blocking the path to that empty bench. Without an outlet for the Big Questions, they create more questions than answers. The little things turn into Big Things and my Overflowing Heart tends to take on an unwieldy and overwhelming role. The world suddenly seems too big, time too fleeting, the path too cluttered.       

And, really, the world is big. Time is short. And the path is always cluttered with something.

But I want to make it just a little bit smaller, a little bit slower, a little less cluttered. And I’m trying to figure out a way to do just that.

I don’t presume to have the answers on how to work through these unsettled periods, how to make the growing pains a little less uncomfortable, or how to eliminate the mental clutter. And I certainly don’t have any answers to the Big Questions.

All I know is that I’m trying to figure it out.

So I’m settling in…in a safe and comfortable way. With people – my people – who I can wipe tears and bump elbows and hold hands with. With honest and vulnerable truth-telling. With an intentional effort to be present, to share, to listen. With long, rambling conversations with my husband. Because, when you get down to it, I am convinced that one of the greatest gifts a person can be given is simply to be heard and understood.

And I’m slowing down…in my own Type-A, neurotic sort of way. With scheduled technology breaks. Weekends with friends. Laughing with my kids. Shared silences. Gin and tonics on the deck while the sun goes down.

And I’m letting go…in a sloppy, haphazard sort of way. Tossing aside the grudges. Surrendering the shame of my own shortcomings which have been taking up too much space on the bench in my contented corner. Last Sunday at church, we talked about this letting go in the context of Tashlich, the Jewish tradition of “casting off” sins and shortcomings as part of Rosh Hashanah, which was celebrated last week. It felt good to return to this sacred space – both physically and mentally – to cast away a bit of the emotional clutter, to clear away some of the sticky mess. To forgive, move on, and make space. To let go.

Slowly, I’m finding the tools – settling in, slowing down, letting go – that might soften the jagged edges, smooth the sharp corners, and find the path to back to the bench. The Big Questions are still there, but in a magical and mysterious sort of way. The world is still infinitely vast, but in an endless possibility sort of way. Time is still fleeting, but there are momentary flashes, if I’m really paying attention, when time seems to slow down just a bit. The path is still a little cluttered, but it’s clearer now; there is space to hope and dream and wonder.

With a clearer path, I’m hoping to gain a renewed appreciation for the empty park bench in my secret sacred space. In fact, it just might be the perfect place for my husband and I to enjoy one of those sunset gin and tonics we love so much.

How do you clear space? How do you settle in and slow down and let go?

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This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is both stunning and, well, inspirational.

 

9 Comments

  • Beautiful, descriptive writing Christine. I’ve also been taking a step back to get quiet and reconnect with what I want and where I am headed. Slowing down to clear space is a frightening experience, yet one I continue to need to get back to some semblance of sanity and center. You described the experience clearly and with great compassion. Here’s to park benches and the full rainbow of emotions we get to experience when we make space to enjoy them!
    Mary recently posted…A Decade of Parenting LessonsMy Profile

    • Thanks, Mary. It sounds like a lot of us are dealing with similar things. I wonder if there is something about fall and the perpetual back-to-school vibe of this season that creates this kind of emotional/mental shifting inside. Hmmm….

  • This is beautiful writing. I’m sorry I’ve been absent the past couple weeks. With the Jewish holidays I don’t have a lot of time for blog reading/writing. Sometimes I feel like my brain is too cluttered. Like my thoughts are just getting all mixed up and crowded out by everyone else’s thoughts. Those are the time I desperately need to be alone, to run or read or write or just to think. Only in the being alone can I recapture the quiet that is such an important part of my being.
    Samantha Brinn Merel recently posted…“Let Us Tell How Holy This Day Is”My Profile

    • I absolutely get what you are saying. I find it harder to silence the extra noise lately with social media, the internet, etc. But I think you’re right – the quiet is very important.

  • Christie,

    Gin and Tonics on the deck with your husband sounds like a great start to me. The way I calm down is riding the train from Boston to Maine on Friday evenings. The city recedes the country side passes by and I grab a glass of wine from the bar car. When I reach Maine, Paul is waiting and the ocean air washes away the rest of my worries. It is the perfect mini vacation every weekend. That is my park bench….
    xo,
    Bill
    Bill Dameron recently posted…The Treasure We SeekMy Profile

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