“It’s important to stay busy.” That’s what I said to my 24-year-old daughter the other day, and as the words were leaving my mouth, a wave of sadness swept through me – as though I was giving her very old, very crusty survival tips – pretty much my lifetime prescription for how to stay on the right side of things – how to stave off sadness and loneliness – how to respond to feeling small or adjust yourself when you have no idea what you’re doing, when it appears that the rest of the world is having a lovely time and you are back in your house on a Friday night surrounded by silence.
“Stay busy,” I warned.
Marie Howe, the beautiful poet, once told me in a class to never use clichés, but what is another way to say “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water?” Maybe if I said it in French it would sound more exotic. Because getting busy, being busy, putting one foot in front of the other, making sure you’ve got your list and you know what your priorities are has really served me all these years, and it’s not a bad thing at all. I make shit. I’m a mother of a manifestor. Give me a shovel and I’ll dig. Definitely more of a do-er than a be-er. There’s a huge identity around it, can you feel it? Much pride.
But still, this wave of sadness I felt as I spoke to my daughter – my daughter who has recently been through heart break, my daughter who doesn’t love her job or the city she lives in, my daughter who needs to make some real friends and figure out what she wants to do with her life. “Stay busy,” while correct in some ways – I mean – the girl probably needs a list and a plan if she’s going to wrangle her way into something new – was also a cover for something else, something I hadn’t necessarily been good at facing in my life, and she knew it, I could see it in her face as she listened to me, the way she cocked her head and said nothing.
I mean to model something for her, but as I’ve watched her in these last few months I see that she’s modeling for me. She cries a fair amount these days, and then she goes to work, and works hard, and comes home and sometimes there’s more crying, and the next day she gets up and does it again. I knew I taught my girls to buck up, but I didn’t teach them how to be sad, and she’s doing a brilliant job at it. I see that. I’m watching.
As I write this I realize someone might comment something like, “I’m sorry she’s sad and they would be missing the whole point of this piece. I’d much rather someone say, “awesome, she’s getting to know sadness, lucky her.” Because as I watch my girl, her beauty only increases with her tenderness, how when we’re talking on the phone I can hear the catch in her voice, the breath she takes before the tears come. My girl is becoming whole – that’s what I see. There will be more sadness in her life, and she’ll remember this time and that she came through it. She was there for it. She didn’t Netflix her way through the whole thing.
As for my own response to sadness and slushy feelings in general – like when my marriage was hard, or someone broke up with me or things were rocky with my work – I’ve generally worked even harder. Stayed super busy. Made an intense commitment to exercise. I shopped. Drank. Did drugs. Not all at the same time, mind you, but over the years all of these things to some degree. My friend Lisa Jones said about me once that I was always wanting to tweak the moment, make things feel better than they were. So I survived, yay me.
But what about that wave of sadness that hit me when I was instructing my pup? Maybe if I can just stay with it an extra beat or two before I get up to see what’s in the refrigerator or whether someone likes my latest Instagram post I could grow a little here.
I could really go to town strategizing how to heal this tendency to stay busy so as to avoid what else is moving through me – but I’ve decided to keep it simple. I’ve decided to take a little break with my work – this is called Burying the Lead, by the way. But my friend Ellen suggested I take a sabbatical in the fall, and when she said it I exhaled deeply. That next week I told my class, and Ana, my student, said, “The Radical Sabbatical,” which was funny and true. It’s a chance for me to get a little more quiet – be less busy – see what arises from the great blah blah – what Gary, our old therapist used to call the here and now. I don’t know if sadness will arise when I sit with more space. Maybe it’ll be confusion or lethargy – who knows? All I do know is that there’s a reason why my adult life has been defined by work, why I’ve put it ahead of friendships and sometimes family, why I cling to business and productivity.
Sadness – and the whole river of feelings that moves beneath the day to day me – has been one patient mother, her hands folded neatly in her lap, waiting for me to get a little older, a little more tired of heaving myself up that hill every day. I can almost see her out of the corner of my eye as the blur of my life starts slowing down. She got my attention. She’s on her way.
So…I gotta empty room in Florence if you wanna come be quiet in Italy for a while.
I love your honesty. There are good and bad things about the busy-ness, depending on how you use them. Recognizing the importance of feeling emotions is powerful. It’s brave of you to move toward the stillness. Thanks for your writing!
I often pray for you to have a deep prolonged rest. I don’t know why. Maybe because I think there is a buried treasure awaiting you in the stillness. All I do know is how I love you.
This one has me in tears. I’m not even sure what kind… recognition, relief, and something else residing in an involuntary deep exhale that came through while I read. Something having to do with mothering. Bless your sabbatical and your sadness and your lovely, courageous pup.
I’m also headed for an autumnal rest. And trying to make peace with my people still-shouldering-the-wheel-in-their-graves, those temple-builders your folks brewed up a storm for here a few generations back. If you happen to meander this way, maybe we could undo some of the doing by spending a day simply resting on their graves. Just an idea.
And as we both know, if Grace is praying for something you might as well put out the welcome mat. It’s probably already on the train.
Oh my. I wish I knew more. Here I go again. Giving you examples of what works for me. It’s a simple four letter word. I wonder if other people have found four letter words. I have no clue. When I golf I am with the Divine. I just have to remember to look. Golf is meditative. You can be the ball. I learned long ago to let go of any bad outcome. Embrace the joy of good shots. Enjoy the solitude at times. Enjoy companionships at others. My wife and some of my friends tell jokes. I fell in love on a golf course. My ashes will be scattered on hole number 7 Canyon Course Ventana Tucson Arizona. I like to tell anyone who will listen about the Eagle I made with a one foot putt. My dad and I won the Father Son at North Oaks Country Club in 1967 age 18. He is long gone but never the memory. I’ve played for 50 years. Many one dollar bets have been won and lost. Never had to report to the IRS. I’ve always said that life is a metaphor for golf. I love you Laurie. Be the ball.
baby can’t wait to hear what the sabbatical looks like – no teaching at all?? YES sweetpea. Lisa and I talked about you at dinner last night and we both said how happy we are for you and what a great writer you are. And then we ate sushi.
And I support you as you take your own advice.
You need to slow down and find the beauty in stillness, out of which something will shine.
Please take that radical sabbatical ♥️
When we were in San Miguel together, the few days we were together before I was alone in bed healing or hoping I was healing and I had to let go of doing and delighting and instead take care of myself and miss the fun…. Do you remember what you said to me? I’ve thought of it often. When one door doesn’t open, try another door. At first I didn’t even see the other door, and I cried for help. You came. As I read all about all your doing, teaching in the east, going to Katmandu, next year in SMA again, I keep thinking about that other door you can find and walk through. Sounds like you’ve found it. Will you walk through?
Beautifully said….all of it. I’m learning that embracing my sadness when it descends on me is the only way to understand and grow. I wholeheartedly support your sabbatical. Listen to yourself, you know what to do.
Yes!!!! Oh, I am so happy to hear this. Happy that you are taking some time for yourself. Happy for your upcoming rest. Happy that your beautiful daughter is allowing herself to feel and to be fully human. In my own experience, nothing is more transforming than when I stop doing and am simply being. Whether it is a 30-minute meditation, a 24-hour retreat to my little cabin getaway, or a weeklong retreat at the monastery, that kind of complete stop to the schedule allows me to truly connect to life/my heart/what is. You are so accomplished. You are so talented. You can do anything you set your mind to. You are driven. You are creative. You are full of ideas. AND, isn’t there a quote somewhere that says, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” Of course you can rock the world. You’ve proven that. Now, ahhhhhhh, time to fully delight in yourself. Cheering you on. And ready to support you in whatever way I can.
Laurie- what a sting beautiful move. To move less! I love you. Maybe we can go for a walk!
Laurie- what a strong beautiful move- To move less! I love you. Maybe we can go for a walk!
yes, yes, yes – learn to be sad! And happy and mad and lonely and bored and inspired and insecure and passionate. Riding these hills, embracing all of those messy emotions, instead of riding over them, is learning how to live deeply.
It has taken me 5 decades to fully embrace the fact that for every rise there is an inevitable fall – it no longer takes me by surprise. However neither does the fact that I will survive to climb another beautiful hill.
Hurrah that she is learning this lesson within the warmth of your love. Sending hugs to both of you!
I love this post so much, Laurie! I’ve felt that sadness lurking too, and sometimes I feel like “everybody” is having more fun/a better life than me, but other times I notice how other people seem to be grappling with stress and sadness too, and I think Well it’s hard to be human sometimes.
Your piece resonated with me, as always, and this one really hit home. We were always taught to do, do, do, and sublimate the sadness, despite its presence just beneath everyone’s raggedly busy surface. As I get older, I realize that the ability to recognize and face sadness and all those makeup-smearing emotions opens up the portal to authenticity and true progress, as we are aware enough to recognize what is and isn’t working. Your daughter will hopefully feel empowered to discover that her sadness, her honesty, is actually what awakened you. In this instance she was the inadvertent teacher—how magical is that? I trust something truly brilliant and rejuvenating will arise from your radical sabbatical, much as I will miss you.
I love you. Thank you for this.
No empty places to fill, now free spaces to feel each emotion more fully in this radical step you’ve allowed yourself to crawl, cry, leap, regress and blossom into. I hope it becomes for you what you’re seeing so beautifully felt and freeing in your daughter. I’m happy for you.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
― Carl Gustav Jung
Very nice, Laurie. I, too, am taking a sabbatical of sorts starting in the Fall. The “busy” thing is just a program; a conditioning. And I have come to believe that it is our life’s “work” to clear the programming — or at the very least, try to understand it — so we come to know who we really are… <3
Love your girl in her transformation, and the one in you too. This productivity queen took herself to a non duality retreat in Spain and got the full stop. Eight hours of silence a day, meditation, and a deep inquiry into a rare truth— even when we think we are the doer we are not. Hope y’all come see us in the mountains one day. Love you so.
What more is there to say…intensely mothering 3 daughters here, and I often feel that you and I share so much. The doing. It saves us until it doesn’t. I was alone driving in the red rock mountains of Sedona the other day and yes, that deep sadness arose (surprise!) as it does when I find myself alone for a few hours with space all around. And in my head…I was writing. Laurie my soul sister—you keep going, I mean being…yes, just being. Me too.
I learned. That’s what your writing does. As a mommy flailing around to support and love her grown son as he navigates through a really tough time (job, relationship, home, loss) your piece brought me above the clouds for a moment. Ah. I can grow as a person and mother through this painful process. There may be a bigger purpose in this for me. I was pretty solid on this being ultimately good for him, but hadn’t considered it could be important for me. Thank you, old friend.
beautiful insight as always, Laurie. I’ve been there with sadness, as you know. Recently watched a talk where the message was you don’t move on (from sadness) you move “with.” Trying to remember that as I watch my own pup chart a path through heartbreak.
I needed this so much today. My husband is dying in front of my eyes and I have been running as fast as I can to avoid it. Oh how much I am missing. Today, because of this and you, I stop and become present to all of it.
As a man, I’ve had to learn to catch myself with my kids, in particular, and try just to listen. My fall-back tendency, like many men, is to try to immediately posit a solution, to fix it. What I am continuing to learn is the value of providing a safe space to just be heard. And then, when I see signs of interest in ideas to address the problem, I might suggest some alternatives or, better yet, help my kids brainstorm their own solutions. After 25 years, this “parenting thing” continues to teach me new lessons.
Beautiful, Laurie. Congrats on the radical choice!
Oh Laurie, as usual this is wonderful and moving and rich and alive–and even if you’re not teaching next fall, you’re teaching us all right now. Thank you for this gorgeous piece. I will also miss you in the fall, and I am thrilled for you to take this time. Congratulations! XO!
How I have missed your radical openness and light filled words! T
Such lovely words. Sadness my old friend. It always catches up with you and occasionally it is so big, you can’t run. Hard to sit with sadness and even harder to keep your life moving. What a smart woman you raised ❤️
My girl is becoming whole – that’s what I see.
As always I am moved by the way you capture the important slices of life in a short essay. Good for you, letting you daughter find her way through sadness and undobutedly she come out stronger for it. I know first hand this is a hard thing for a mother with strong tendencies to fix things to do. I predict when the moment is right you will return from your sabbatical excited and even more enthused to be writing / teaching… all of it. Everyone needs to recharge the batteries every once in awhile. Abrazos grande amiga.
I am always so eager to read what you have written. My daughter is 23 and I could relate to every word. They teach us so much!