Back to Basics
It is hard to come back after vacation, isn’t it? To see those free, expansive days end is a kind of cruelty. But I came back to our little apartment after a holiday break, happy to be home. Even with the Christmas tree still standing and brittle and our suitcases strewn on the floor in the living room and bedroom, unpacked. Even with no milk or clean towels, it still feels kind of merry in here, if in a cluttered, post-holiday kind of way.
I’ve eased into the week trying to hold on to “quiet mind.” It’s a feeling that comes on for me during vacations or on any extended periods away from the computer or even after yoga. I’m able to focus without thoughts darting every which way. I feel relaxed. You know that feeling? Hanging on to it is the catch.
There’s so much wonderful reflecting and goal-setting happening on the internet right now. On the one hand, it’s inspiring to see, and a kick in the pants for those of us who need it. On the other, it can make a lady feel a little inadequate. I didn’t know what I wanted my 2012 to be “about.” I didn’t have a theme or a goal or a resolution or a project. And that feeling of not having something to strive for in the new year turned into a gnawing anxiety. The new year was coming: what was my plan?
The great thing about having time outside the normal daily hustle and bustle is that things can have a way of working themselves out. One day in the country last week, I went on a walk among farms in the late afternoon light, hands shoved deep in my pockets. My ears and cheeks were cold as I crossed a county line. Drivers waved, I snapped a few pictures, and it all felt so good.
The whole outing smacked me with its simplicity. My approach to the new year is as much mantra as intention. Back to basics. It’s not a goal, not a should, not a resolution, just a reminder of what I care about. Like: a fire, a soft couch, a sleeping dog. A good book, a warm bath, a knitting project. Homemade soup, singing together, and walks in the cold winter air.
I started this blog nearly six years ago (!) because I was trying to carve out a life for myself that felt better. I wanted to soften the edges of my first job in a new city, and make a new and unfamiliar apartment feel like home. I wanted––even needed––to add some richness to my everyday. That first year, I sewed curtains (badly, but they did the job), made my first leg of lamb, put cheap flowers on my desk at work, and dropped in at a knitting circle once or twice. Each little moment of attention to something I needed in my daily life helped. My sense of loneliness, fear, and not knowing what the hell I was doing with all these big life choices I’d made eased a little. It was like smoothing out wrinkles; I was trying to get the basics of my life lined up.
And now, six years later, I feel certain that those basics worked a kind of magic in my life. They were touchstones that I could return to and refine as circumstances continued to change. It’s human nature to want more, to keep after the bigger and better. But this year, I don’t have a benchmark or milestone to reach. This year, I want to lean into living the life that’s right in front of me, right now.
When we sat and looked back at the last year, it wasn’t the big serious moments of professional or personal triumph that really stood out. Our favorite moments were far simpler: a hike to the top of a mountain, hearing about a friend’s pregnancy on a busy street corner, walking along a curving coastline at dusk. They were bursts that stood out from the everyday, but they were also so fundamental: being in nature, having adventures, connecting with people.
I wonder now if this idea of getting back to basics settled in partly because of the passage by Thich Nhat Hanh I turned to on New Year’s Eve in a book plucked from a shelf: “To love, in the context of Buddhism, is above all to be there…The most precious gift you can give to the one you love is your true presence.”
I’ve been thinking about what it would look like to be present for others––getting off the couch when our partner comes home, keeping our phones silent and out of sight when a friend is telling us a story––and also what it would look like to be more present for ourselves: paying attention to the knot in our neck, our need for another hour of sleep, or some quiet time to just be.
So that’s my intention for the new year: to get back to those basics, and to be there for all the things that really matter everyday, like love, community, creativity, good food, and taking walks––even if they’re not on cold, sunny country roads.