“Life is frittered away by details. Simplify.” —Henry David Thoreau
“Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace…” —Reinhold Neibuhr
I have finally put words to a feeling I have been carrying around. It is the feeling of detoxing. I believe I am dealing with two kinds of detox, and both have been hard for me, first to name and now embrace.
I am detoxing from variety. And it has been hard to embrace this, to accept it fully. When I shared this with Rhea last week on a zoom meeting, her response was not particularly diplomatic, but more what I would call “fierce compassion”, an invitation to reality. She said, “Suck it up, Buttercup.”
“Suck it up, Buttercup.”
The Richness Of Life
I have often said that I am not rich in money but I am very rich in life experiences. Life is full. And yes I am very aware that I live a life of privilege. There is no shortage of friends and I have a loving, close family. Outside of meaningful work, (also a privilege) my husband and I have a plethora of interests in which we remain active. Jazz concerts, classical concerts, live theatre, and art museum events. Family outings and many family rituals. Travel with friends, and fascinating lectures. Cooking and entertaining. Gardening, eating out. Dancing. Book clubs, conferences, church activities and volunteer opportunities. It is all wonderful. Life has so much to offer. How could anyone ever complain about being bored? Woohoo!
A few of these activities are still do-able in modified ways. But honestly, I am starting to feel a little bored and boring. My desire is to be stimulated again, by something exciting and wonderful, something large and amazing. Ok. I feel guilty for saying that, but I am just putting it out here. Anybody with me? (Dear God, please let me not be the only one.)
A Simpler Life
During this time of pandemic quarantine, I have been interspersing reading novels with my usual professional literature because good novels are always a lovely escape. Two of the most recent books have taken place in much earlier times in history. The first, Ahab’s Wife, by Sena Jeter Nasland, takes place in the late 1800’s and is set mostly on the New England coast, the ocean, and sometimes in Kentucky. The second, Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel, The Book Of Longings, is set in the first decade of the CE, in the area we would call the Holy Lands and also in Egypt.
While reading these books, I have been drawn into the simplicity of life during these earlier times. (Also the danger of these times but that is another post.) During the day, adults and children did chores and worked in order to survive. At night, they ate dinner at home, (whatever was available and seasonal) and perhaps had a past-time like carving, needlework, or just visiting with each other. They slept, and repeated this again the next day. Special occasions were just that—special. They occurred a few times a year. A festival of some sort. A visit from a friend. A new season.
Special occasions were just that—special. They occurred a few times a year.
Before the pandemic, my special events took place almost weekly. Clearly I have variety to the point of distraction or even addiction or I wouldn’t be feeling this as a detox. You? So many of us are having to detox from our busy lives of privilege.
Remembering What Matters
So over the past few days I have been asking my friends what they are detoxing from and what is working for them. The detox answers were all pretty similar, most of them related to being too busy or working too much. What stirred me the most, though, were their answers.
One friend said that she realized that in all her busyness, she had not given attention to relationships that really matter. This is the question she is asking herself now:
“How do I revisit the network of Love that I have strayed from?” She went on to say, “I now have the time to and the excuse to revisit this network.” The pandemic has made reconnecting with an overlooked or ignored relationship less awkward.
“How do I revisit the network of Love that I have strayed from?”
Another friend said that he was spending thirty minutes every morning after his run in the garden with no devices. Just sitting and thinking, reflecting, and noticing.
Several friends mentioned savoring the simple joys: reading, walking, quiet evenings, cutting flowers, sending a hand-written note. Savoring, in fact, is one of the components of happiness. More intense that look, see, touch, taste, smell, savor invites us to stop for a moment, play very close attention to detail, and to let that moment matter. Savoring may be a key component to embracing the detox.
Savoring, in fact, is one of the components of happiness.
Living The Cure
Last Saturday was an opportunity for me to embrace the detox and practice savoring. We were invited to a friend’s neighbor’s house to spend time at the pool. To be totally truthful, this house and yard is a prize property. The brick walls around the yard give it a feeling of an estate or private spa. Flowers were blooming and the garden was pristine. The breeze was cool and the sun was warm. We packed simple and delicious food and shared a special bottle of wine we had been saving for them. Several times during the afternoon, I consciously made the decision to savor every moment. How could it be any better than this? Friends. Love. Beauty. Sunshine. Food. We could have been anywhere in the world in that moment. Italy. France. Or just up the street, where we were. And it was enough. My prayer was that it would last in my heart. That I would savor it. That I would recall it, when I felt bored or boring. When I began itching again for something novel and stimulating, could I just recall these simply perfect hours of visiting and be satisfied?
In addition to savoring the simplest of experiences, I am making every effort to keep up a discipline of meditation and mindfulness. When I seem to be restless, craving of a distraction, or just anxious or distraught, what truly works best for me is what the monks of old use to call “returning to your cell.” Turn everything off, stop reading, find a quiet place, center myself, and relax into the place where I know God. I use centering prayer techniques a good bit. But I encourage you to find a discipline that works for you. There is no substitute for this return to Love.
A Second Kind Of Detox
Many of you reading this post are doing what I am doing daily—working to understand, confess, and dismantle my own racist ideas, whether I have understood them before or not. I am reading books and articles, listening to podcasts and videos, watching movies and television specials, studying Scripture, listening to others carefully, and sitting and thinking, a lot. Letting go of some old ideas and integrating new ideas is not always easy. However, if I am make myself sit in that space of unknowing, not yet fully understanding, I do trust that with continued studying, noticing, thinking, listening, and praying, I will find my way to a new understanding and space.
Last week I listened to Brene’ Brown’s Podcast, Unlocking Us. In this episode she interviews Ibram X. Kendi, author of How To Be An Anti-Racist. It is a compelling interview and I could quote many minutes of it. But this is the image that has stayed with me.
“… to grow up in America is to grow up with racist ideas rained on your head. And you have no umbrella and you don’t even know you are wet with racist ideas, because the racist ideas have you imagine that you are dry. Then someone comes along and says, “You’re wet.” (As the racist ideas keep raining on your head). “And here is an umbrella.” And so you say, “thank you.”
We need umbrella holders like Kendi, like Rachel Cargle, like Trevor Noah, like so, so many others, who show us how we have been rained upon with racist ideas. And when the umbrella gets there, it feels a little like a detox. Uncomfortable. Shaky.
When the umbrella gets there, it feels a little like a detox.
Ignorance of History
The year was 1999, and my husband and I went to see the Academy Award Winning Movie, Snow Falling on Cedars. I knew little about it before I went, except that it was based on a novel written by David Guterson about a fictitious island in the Puget Sound and involved a love affair and a murder trial. The story also recounted the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during WWII. At some point during the movie I turned to my husband, who served in the military and has been a better student of history than I have been, and said, “We did this? We did this?” He just nodded his head and after the movie reminded me of the 1980 Commission of Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians that found the internment was a product of racism. Then in 1988, Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, making a public apology for the internment and offering a financial compensation of $20,000 to Japanese-American citizens who were interned. I remember not being able to sleep that night. I was uncomfortable. Shaky. The movie served as the umbrella Kendi talked about. Having lived in Japan for 5 months in 1976, I had grown to love the Japanese people. How did I not know about this extreme racism toward Japanese Americans?
A Familiar Prayer
Friends, most of us know the first few lines of the Serenity Prayer. Written by Anglican priest Reinhold Nieburh, sometime in the 1930’s with infinite adaptations since, it is the second part of this prayer we are less familiar with that speak to me as I am writing this.
“Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time.
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.
Taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to your will. So that I will be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.”
My detox is teaching me repeatedly that the simple things are enough. One moment is enough. Being reasonably happy is enough. Returning to my cell is enough. Researching history is enough. Learning new ideas is enough. What is enough for you?
May embracing whatever is your detox during this time make your messy life more marvelous.
I have a private practice of individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling in Columbia, SC. A few years ago my book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, won Spirituality and Health’s top 100 books of the year. I am passionate about many things in life, but especially about psychology, spirituality, dancing, cooking, marriage, family, friends, writing, traveling, and learning. www.amysandermontanez.com
You can email me at [email protected]