Today I am on the road heading south, the Everglades and New Zealand shimmering on the horizon. Monday I took a walk around our neighborhood in Asheville. It was a beautiful fall day with a few wisps of color still stubbornly clinging to the branches of the trees. The air was warm for late November but with a hint that something was about to change. A whisper in the breeze indicated that winter was on its way. As I ambled down streets I travel sometimes multiple times a day, the thought struck me that this would be my last day of fall here in the mountains, and one of the last times I would see these familiar streets until after the winter has come and gone, after the freezing and thawing, and the cold north winds have advanced and retreated once again. I was again reminded that all we have is this moment right in front of us and that that is all we really need. This moment.
Many months have passed since last I posted something in this space. It would be easy to say that I have been busy, but in the end it is not a question of what I have been doing instead of writing, it is a question of priorities. What do we do with the limited amount of time we have allotted to us? Each day. Each moment.
It is sometimes difficult to know one’s priorities. When I try to discern them, I feel forces tugging at me from many directions. These include the things I think I should be doing, the tasks I really need to do, and items that I may perceive as needs but that perhaps I should not be spending my time and attention on. When choosing priorities, what often gets left out of the equation is doing those things that can add more meaning to life, those things that make us look deeply inside ourselves.
When choosing priorities, what often gets left out of the equation is doing those things that can add more meaning to life, those things that make us look deeply inside ourselves.
The priorities in my life have been in a constant state of flux lately. I inhabit two very different worlds and have been moving between them with a great deal of frequency. There is my working world and my Asheville world. In the working world, I am away from home either leading an Outward Bound course or guiding bicycle tours. My priorities in the working world are decided for me. I get up early and work until I fall into bed exhausted at night. All my priorities for the day are dictated according to what’s going on with the trip, and the people involved with it. My time spent in the working world allows me to not have to make any decisions about my priorities.
I think it could be that many of us like to have our priorities determined for us. It allows us to abdicate some level of responsibility for our lives. If we are unsatisfied or unhappy, we can lay some blame on the fact that some external force, be it our jobs or some person in our life, is in control of our time. This sloughing off of responsibility might not be particularly healthy, and it could lead to some deep resentments. But having our priorities laid out for us is certainly easier than deciding for ourselves what to do with the finite amount of time we are granted.
Upon returning to my Asheville world, I have a blank slate in front of me ranging in length from a day or two to several weeks. One would think this should be an invigorating thing, but it usually stresses me out to no end. As I wake each morning, my mind begins to thrash about, parsing through what I might do, weighing all sorts of competing impulses against one another. Though I have a whole day ahead of me, it amazes me how quickly the time gets filled, yet too often I am left with the feeling that I did not accomplish anything of substance.
There is always a long list of the day to day tasks that life and society requires that I do to keep things humming along, things that are important like keeping the house in order and dealing with finances, etc. Other chunks of time are filled with those self-imposed priorities such as keeping up with the stacks of reading material both analog and digital that I have allowed into my life, or opening up a web browser to do something that at one time I had deemed important only to realize an hour later that I do not even remember what that thing was and whether or not I had actually accomplished it or not. All this leaves little time for that list of things I think I would really like to do, the projects that require more time and focus. These are the things that might have no immediate tangible benefits, but may create more real value in my life and perhaps that of others.
The issue is this: The things that add value to our lives and the world we live in can be difficult, sometimes even painful to do. It is difficult to get out of bed on a cold, rainy morning and go for a run, even though the physical and emotional benefits are well worth it. It may seem inconvenient or uncomfortable to make a few phone calls in order to set up some intentional time to spend with the important people in our life, or to schedule an opportunity to be of service to someone who needs it. And for me, it feels difficult to put in the effort required to try and create something of quality that I hope will be of some worth to others instead of just an outlet for whatever thoughts might be running around in my head.
If we can learn how to pay attention to the choices we make regarding how we spend our time, we have the power to change.
So here is what I try and remember about priorities: Every moment of our life, we get to start again. We can refocus our priorities on the things that are truly important to us. If we can learn how to pay attention to the choices we make regarding how we spend our time, we have the power to change.
Though I have not visited this space for quite some time now, for the next month there is no work on my calendar and many rough drafts in the queue that need polishing and refining. Will they ever see the light of day here? It is really a question of priorities and whether or not I can wade through all the other things that are pulling at my attention to see clearly if this is one of them. Stay tuned.
Many of you might remember that this blog began with a post detailing Mary and my struggle with whether or not to remain home owners. Well, as far as this home is concerned, I think we may have answered that question.
20 Chatham Road is officially on the market.
It’s not that we don’t like this house. We are quite fond of it. We have spent quite a bit of time and money making the house into the home it it today. Walls have been removed, kitchens remodeled, and furniture rearranged ad nauseam. And please, don’t even inquire as to how many times it took us to paint the bathroom until we finally got it right. You may be wondering then why we are moving and where we are going to go?
As for the where are we going question, well, I don’t know. We don’t really have a clear vision of what’s next. We are still wondering whether ownership is what we want or not. I guess we will have to sort out that decision soon. The question of why we are going did become somewhat clearer to me recently.
It all comes down to letting go.
Why have we been thinking about selling this house for so many years now and not done anything about it? As for me, an answer to that question is that I have been afraid about what would be next. Where will we go? What about all of our stuff? I have learned to hold on to the safety and security of owning the house.
A podcast I recently listened to was on this topic of letting go. It talked about the ways we hold on to things, and that this holding on can become like a closed fist. The issue with having a closed fist is that it can be very limiting. Think about it, what can you really do with a closed fist? Sure you can keep holding on to whatever your thing is, you can pound stuff with it, and wave it in the air with indignation or just while rocking out, but that’s about it. Now, consider an open hand and how much more it can do. It can reach out to others, or be used to make something beautiful. It can reach forward and point towards the horizon. Letting go is about having an open hand.
Though we do not yet know what is next for us, we are looking forward to it with excitement and of course a certain healthy amount of uncertainty. We have had a great five years in this house. As we move forward, we hope to do so with a sense of possibility and with open hands outstretched.