What can happen in a second? You can take a risk, and be glad you did. You can go from searing pain to locking eyes with your newborn and never be the same again. You can set aside your anger and shame and go to that meeting and meet someone who will last the rest of your life. You can learn you have cancer. You can learn you are in remission. You can decide to make contact with the stranger who happens to know something of your experience and end up forging a wonderful friendship. You can permit fear to paralyze you and make the biggest mistake of your life and almost lose everything. You can forgive yourself. You can let go, or hang on. You can reject, or embrace. You can argue, or listen. You can put on pause your racing mind and legs, and for a moment feel deeply alive. You can give, and you can receive. You can remember to breathe, and be surprised and see clearly and swim in gratitude and love.
The other day, surrounded by the chaos of a thousand boxes, in the middle of sorting it out, I was struck by the truth that there is at times more room in my life for stuff and information and self-indulgence than there is for grace, grace in every sense of the word: generosity of spirit, empathy, beauty, humility, gentleness, kindness, letting go.
Grace is fluid. It flows our way, and through us, and out to others, if we permit it to, if we have our feet solidly on the earth, if our lives are uncluttered enough.
We take in so much—food, affirmation, information, criticism, material things. It does not matter what; we must ultimately break it down, assimilate the helpful, eliminate that which isn’t and which will, if held on to, ultimately become toxic.
Taking in too much, and taking in without taking the time to sort and assimilate and eliminate, without occasional excursions into the desert, will eventually result in an excess that saps our vitality, makes us sluggish, heavy, anxious, egocentric. It will begin to choke out breath and awareness and gratitude and empathy and deep sleep, which are all things we need to repair and heal our lives.
Major repairs, I’m learning, whether they be broken bones or a crushed spirit, can only happen in the absence of gluttony, in the presence of clear water and fresh air and quiet. New cells, new ideas, new ways of relating and functioning—all are best born after the death and proper clearing out of the old, after periods of dormancy.
Grace needs breathing room, white space.
The pruning process, like the removal of a tumour (which like excesses of all kinds serves no lasting purpose), can be exhausting and difficult. But it is, in my experience, absolutely necessary if we are to breathe deeply, to be free of congestion and bitterness, to have space for grace and love and compassion, to have the clarity of mind necessary for restful and plentiful sleep.
I think I may be nearing the end of a fairly dramatic pruning process that has been going on for what feels like a very long time now. It began with my cancer diagnosis nearly two years ago and should now, with this move and the paring down of my physical world, be winding down.
I’m pretty tired, but I couldn’t be happier about the coming winter.