This week I tried something different. I recorded my thoughts while driving down the road in Kansas just before sunset on Thursday evening. Then the next morning, I listened to it, transcribed it, cleaned up the grammar just a tad, and then decided to post both the oral and the written version as they are. . .blog and podcast as musings from the road.
Now that I'm driving, writing, reading, walking and working every day -- and still trying to get a little sleep -- I've decided to give myself permission for this whole practice to be even more imperfect than it already was. . .Whatever comes out comes out. This is what came out: A reflection on some things I learned, heard, and realized this week about my Daily Practice of Joy thus far. Inspired by the Unknown and Unfinished in us all!
For those of you who would rather listen, here you go. (And you can always find the latest podcasts by clicking the LISTEN tab at the top left of this page.)
For those of you would rather read what I transcribed, here you go. Please forgive the spoken word feel to it. Because, well, it is what it is!
It’s been an interesting journey this week. I’m in the middle of Kansas. The part where it gets flat. People have this idea that Kansas is all flat. I’ve heard so many people say, Kansas is boring. Kansas is actually really beautiful. Especially when the rolling fields are lush and green interspersed with pockets of huge trees and colorful fields of corn and sunflowers, horses grazing, old barns. I really like the rolling part of Kansas. But where I am now is where it flattens out. So unless you go over a rise, you can’t see far. I know that there are mountains to the West. Tomorrow, at some point, they will start to emerge from the blue like magic — distant, purple, ethereal, otherworldly, almost unreal. Until they finally materialize. And I know that when they manifest, I will almost be home. Only home for a few days, but home nonetheless.
Last week, I left a place that had come to feel like home. My Hudson Valley hermitage. My reentry was difficult. It wasn’t that I didn’t do fun things when I re-entered the quote unquote real world. I went to see the new Meryl Streep movie, Florence Foster Jenkins. I went to a worship service in the City and heard a wonderful talk by the director of my seminary about the liminal but hopeful place of unknowing in creating a beloved community. I shared some wonderful meals with wonderful people. But I kept jangling, inside and out. Leaving a place I had come to love so soon after leaving my beloved home and graduating away from my beloveds in seminary. The traffic, the people, the consumerism, the noise. It all kept jangling me. It wasn’t until I went to the new Met Breuer space, which was the old Whitney, and saw one of their two inaugural shows, that something eased inside me. The show was called Unfinished. But then I got on the road, and things went wrong, the days got long, I felt the loneliness and long open stretches of this life that I have chosen. And I sat with it as I drove not in complete ease.
So tonight, as the sun is beginning to lower, turning ochre in the haze of the dirt turned up from the fields that are being plowed and turned over all all around me, I find myself feeling as dusty and murky as the air. Golden and radiant and hopeful. Hazy and halfhearted and unfinished, too.
And I find myself wanting to share something that all of this has made me realize about my Daily Practice of Joy. Something that I haven’t necessarily been feeling AS joy, but something that I know to be the result of having committed to a daily practice. And that is that, from this place of practice, I am finding a kind of peace, even when I’m not having that much fun. I’ve found a place of peace, even when I feel lonely. I’ve found a place of peace even when things are going badly. I’ve found a place of peace even when I am feeling tired or antsy or achy or dulled.
It’s a place of peace that connects the dots between the unknown and the unfinished. It’s a place of peace that feels exactly like this evening, under this ochre sky, in this barren but beautiful landscape on the edge of America.
This is the place where so much of what we eat is grown, and yet so few people live here. It’s a lonely landscape. Field upon field. Different colors. Empty and full. Bordered by roads and tracks created to take what is grown here away. This is a place that is always unfinished. It is a place of departure. Few people stay here. More people have left than still live here. Much more of what is grown here leaves than stays, because there aren’t that many people here to eat it — but there are a lot of people who need to eat what is grown here. But instead of feeling this place as one of unfinished loneliness, what I feel here is a kind of equanimity, an equilibrium. A kind of peace that passeth all understanding.
When I saw Unfinished, I started from the end first — on the fourth floor. The newer pieces first. I did this by accident on purpose. Because when I got to the beginning of the show on the third floor, I found myself face to face with some very old friends. Unfinished versions of canvases I knew well. Studies. Sketches. Different versions. And once again the color blue surfaced, as it has all summer long. I noticed that much of what was unfinished came out of the blue, as if emerging from an imagined infinity and ether of unknowing to take form in the present of a canvas. The blue of distance. The blue of the Divine. Giving birth to the beauty of art.
And I thought about the talk I had just heard, in which Diane Berke quoted Rebecca Solnit as saying that it is in the space of the unknown and unknowing that we can find the greatest hope. Because it is in that space that we can enter the story and affect the future. It is precisely there, in the yet unwritten, unsung, unlived, the pre-history of history, if you will, that we can affect change. Without that liminal unknown space, there would be no blue of possibility. That’s how I saw those paintings. Unfinished though they were, and therefore not quote unquote masterpieces, they were a place of hope for me. Because in those interstices, the waiting rooms of art not yet come to fruition, I could step in and become a part of their continued existence. In that space I could find hope, ease, peace, and yes, joy. From and in that blue.
So tonight, as I am driving West, I know that the place I cannot see is the place I call home, a place in which I no longer live but only visit. And yet I call it home, because a part of my heart will always be there. And now a part of my heart is also in the Hudson Valley, where I have also found a sense of home and peace. Just as a part of my heart will always be in Northern Germany and in Southern California. Places that have homed me and I have loved.
And I understand that the reason this blue has circled up for me so much is that, for the first time in my life, I am finding peace in the unknown and unknowing, the unfinished and interstitial, what is often called The Great Mystery. And that’s what this Daily Practice of Joy has given me.
I began this practice with no earthly idea what it would bring, but with the commitment to show up every single day to it. And I have. I have shown up to it every day. But what that has brought me hasn’t always been joy — or certainly not giddy joy. But it has brought peace and balance and connection. And that, too, is joy.
And so as the haze of twilight swirls through the dirt of the empty fields all around me — glowing gold ochre orange into purple night — that melancholy sweet time of day, I am understanding that it is the practice of whatever it is that connects each of us to our souls and to our hearts and to our lives and so to the lives of others and the planet and the Universe that matters. The act of showing up and being present, even if what we are present to is something that we can never fully name.
This week I understood with such peace and gratitude that I will always be unfinished, that much will alway be unknown, and yet what I feel instead of fear or a compulsive need to fill the holes of my life with false certainties, what I feel is grateful to be here, grateful to be present, grateful to be practicing this joy that has brought me so much more than joy. That has brought me hope, and peace, and connection, and possibilities.
Tonight, as I drive ahead into unknowing unknown unfinished landscape of my life, I feel perfectly imperfect, sadly joyful, sweetly lonely, deeply grateful, and present to the world and right where I am, in a way I could never have imagined before starting this Daily Practice of Joy.
And so it is. Here. Now. Grateful. Growing. Unfinished. Unknowing. Present. In Joy!
And So It Is.