Death, And Then The Dishes

Several weeks ago, I sat down to take note of where I was in the midst of my to-do lists. Going beyond the next 24 hours, I decided to map out everything that was on my mind that needed to be done.

This is what resulted:


This wasn't nearly everything ... the branches could have been much wider. (Note the scribbles at the top as I thought of things I had to do as soon as I was done thinking of what I needed to do.) 

The specifics of what is there is not important.

What is important is that I felt COMPLETELY overwhelmed looking at the page in front of me.

The longer I looked, the more I could see that needed to be done. 

Nothing was jumping out as a priority. If I took care of one thing, then another thing became just as important.

I couldn't see any of these things that I was willing to release -- each seemed just as important as the next.

So I had a whole bunch of stuff to do, no particular place to start, nothing I felt I could let go of, and a complete sense of overwhelm.

Add to that the cherry on top: I had CHOSEN each of these things, LOVED each of them dearly, and was now feeling suffocated by them. Something wasn't right.

And then came the emergency brake.

A sudden upset at home captured all of my time and attention for nearly a week. I had no energy to address anything else, and was pulled into a whirlpool of confusion and uncertainty with my husband and children.

But just as it we were getting around to addressing that,

...we were thrown out of the car.

My father-in-law died very suddenly and unexpectedly on Friday, August 22nd. 

And here we are.

Hovering in the air, uncertain of what is going to come next.

I have been through this with the tragic death of my own father 8 years ago. This groundlessness, this unknowing

I remember back then, looking back at things I'd listed to do before his death, and thinking them quite pointless now - or, if not pointless, impossible to do at that point.

Death has a way of profoundly shifting our perspectives on life.

I look at my husband, my brother-in-law, my mother-in-law, and our children ... and I look at these bubbles of all the things that were so critical to be done.

And I know now.

I wouldn't have chosen this path, ever, but here I am. And I am choosing now, moment by moment - choosing mindfully, carefully, with full attention.


I am choosing to help with the paperwork and the driving and the difficult decisions and the tissue-box-refills. I am choosing to sit in silence, sometimes for hours, with those who need to be joined in being lost. I am choosing to play with my children after they get home from school. I am choosing to hug my husband. I am choosing to paint every now and then, journal, and bathe the dog.

I am choosing what is right in front of me.

I am choosing to do the dishes.

All of those other things - updating my website, jumping back on Facebook, cleaning out the garage - ALL of them, they are still there. But that list looks different now.

A lot of things do.

I have no idea what will come tomorrow, or the day after, or in 2 months.

I am moving slowly, cautiously, paying full attention to what is in front of me. I am pausing a lot to contemplate, pulling others into my speed instead of feeling the need to move at theirs.

I've apologized, though I know I don't need to.

Most people understand.

Death has a way of slowing us down.

And here's the point:

I don't want to speed back up.

I don't want to return to my web of to-do's that I couldn't find a way out of.

This pace of life, this slow, mindful, creative, deep, contemplative flow of life - this is what I've been trying to achieve anyway. I hate that it takes such powerfully tragic reminders to put me back in my place.

It is ironic, of course, that I promote mindfulness and creativity - and yet, find it so easy to get swept up in the non-mindful, do-as-others-are-doing, fast-paced race that most of us live in.

Or perhaps it is strongly beneficial, because I get it.

If you aren't blissfully mindful even though you have every intention to be, I get it. If you aren't sure how to jump off this mad merry-go-round of work, tv, sleep, work, tv, sleep, I get it. If you love the idea of letting the dishes pile up while you paint...but then get frustrated because that just means there are more dishes to be done the next day,

I get it.

I will admit just to you (shhhh....), I thought about giving up BeingBreath these past few days. Deleting my Facebook account, letting the blog and website turn into another digital ghost town, turning all of my attention to my family and the household chores.

But I can't. 

I don't know if I am motivated by my father, who couldn't figure out how to be in this life, or by my father-in-law, who deserved many more years of retirement.

I don't know if I'm motivated by my sister and brother and husband and brother-in-law and all of us left behind after a loved one dies, not knowing what to do next, navigating a groundless world.

I don't know if I'm motivated by the energy of You, who connects with this calling to live one breath at a time, passionately creative, deeply mindful, ... awake.

All of us. All of us need this.

All of us need this moment, to stop, to be, to exist in awe of life, to create from this wellspring of wisdom.

We need fewer to-do lists and webs, fewer reasons to feel trapped in this life, fewer causes for suffering. 

We need more hours just sat in silence, alone or just staring out the window alongside others. We need more slower paced days with energetic bursts of CrEAtInG and DOiNg that flow with calm periods of just being.

We need more lifestyles and careers that honor the rhythms of death and life. We need more lifestyles and careers that are paced based upon hands that create, type, and wipe away tears than lifestyles and careers that are paced based upon hands that circle around a clock.

I don't know how this looks in a practical manner.

But if I've learned one thing over the past several years, it is that I don't excel at knowing the right answers. I excel at knowing the right questions.

And the question now is how can we make this possible in a practical way?

THIS is why I practice Being Breath.

Every cell of my being wants to stay in this slow, deliberate awareness of life, creating one moment at a time. No more tangled to-do webs.

This is why I share Being Breath with you.

I know that I am not alone in this desire to live this way. I know that the journey is what matters. I know that it is in the LIVING of the questions that we find our answers created. And I know that we cannot do this alone.

I thank you for your patience as I creep my way through my own thickly-forested path. 

I thank you for your practice as you journey through your own joys and pains.

And I thank you for doing your dishes.

Because that is all each of us can really do, it is what really makes the difference amidst all of this groundless confusion, the sleep-walked days, the joys of babies and ideas being born, the heart-wrenching pain of loved ones dying.

We cry, we laugh, and we take care of what is right in front of us.

One dish,

one breath at a time.