Repeat. We repeat. It never ends. We are doing the same work, taking the same step, making same gesture again and again.
The other day I bought nasturtiums, black seeded Simpson lettuce, and Bloomsbury spinach. I bought these same seed packets last spring and I suspect the spring before that. Never the Bibb lettuce. Nor the foxgloves. Rather these same seeds appeal to me each April. While at the hardware store, I also bought a can of paint – a little tester to try a new color in the livingroom. I brushed some of the blue-gray hue on the wall that very afternoon and the kids liked it (Chris decidedly did not). But the next morning when the sun hit it and the true color was easier to see, Tobey was no longer smitten: “It’s the same color as your bedroom” Bella saw it differently: “No, it’s the same as the kitchen.” Actually, it’s neither. But the fact that it’s so close and I hadn’t even thought about it suggested a certain reflexivity, a repetition, a habit.
As a kid, a favorite book was Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip, an artist, writer, choreographer, designer and teacher, perhaps best known for his children’s book Fortunately in which Ned’s luck goes from good to bad with each turn of the page. That was a fine read, but what I really liked were the dreamy fine line, color drawings that accompanied his poems which were often without an end. “Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left? Repete…” Often the illustrations themselves continued off the page or were drawn in circles or spirals so that no clear beginning or end was decipherable. I could read it again and again. And again.
Today after yoga, talking about parents, children, aging and physical health, Sarah said, “The work never ends.” It was a moment of brilliance, and though I don’t entirely remember to what she was referring (Sarah often lays these little gems out in our conversations and I have to keep myself from finding a pencil with which to jot them down.), I was reminded of my salty old neighbor Shirley who sat next to me on the swing in her backyard years ago, surveying her neat-as-a-pin garden and perfectly scrubbed walks and Lego-like woodpile. I sighed, glancing over at my very messy homestead. Knowing what I was thinking, she took my hand. “I’ve been working on this house for more than five decades, Jennifer,” she said over the black plastic sunglasses she wore over her regular glasses, “and I can tell you this: The work never ends.”
That can feel intimidating and overwhelming. Really? We’re not getting somewhere?? Depression but keene recognition of the Truth was certainly my initial reaction to learning of samsara and the Buddhist Wheel of Life when I was in my mid-20s. Round and round, repeating the same mistakes was how it felt then. Still dogged by this glass-half-empty mentality, I recently turned to my teacher Jenny and said, “You know, after all of the Reiki and the yoga and therapy … I thought it would get easier.” She laughed. Sweetly, but still a laugh, as though to say, “Silly – that’s not even the point.” Ah… getting off this wild ride is not the point. Doing it with greater awareness, greater compassion for self and others – now that’s something like progress.
It’s more a matter of finding these places that are like doors in the maze from which we can examine the patterns that make us who we are.
Indeed, we stand the same way we did when we were seven (don’t believe me? dig out old photos of yourself or a loved one and look for the telltale hip jutted just so, the hand that doesn’t know where to put itself, the chin tilted upward). Even if our taste in artists has changed significantly, we’re often drawn to the same kinds of stories, the same melodies, the same colors. We sleep the same way – some of us curled up, others open to the world. And perhaps dream some of the same dreams. In short we spiral – in or out, it’s hard to say.
There are little openings in this path, though, places where we can poke through or see a bit of light that we hadn’t noticed before. Imagine loops with openings where we can repeat the same loop but up a level. The repetition isn’t bad – it’s more a matter of finding these places that are like doors in the maze from which we can examine the patterns that make us who we are. When you find these perches from which to spy your hundreds of figure eights layed down on the ice rink of your life, try not to pass judgement. Try even not to effect change – at least not wholesale change. Rather use the opening and the vantage point to locate opportunities for miniscule fine tuning; think here of the tiniest adjustment of your hips in a yoga pose, or what happens when you bring awareness to your breath when you run. Wow, what a difference! Fine tune. Accept. Repeat.
“I scowl,” I said to Chris last night over sushi. (Ok, there’s a difference. I remember the first time I had sushi at a tiny restaurant in Wallingford in Seattle and I nearly choked I was so undone by the odd texture.) “No you don’t.” “Yes, I do.” “That’s a judgement. You may feel you scowl, but that’s not how I see you.”
Can I soften into my scowl, even if it’s an inner scowl? Love my scowl? Accept it? Can I rename it – naming makes such a difference; perhaps it’s a serious face, it’s intention, it’s concentration – not a scowl at all.
Pete. Repeat. There’s so much to learn just by reading the story over. By watching ourselves, listening to ourselves as we begin again. And again.
And wouldn’t you know it, but today’s Writer’s Almanac is perfect. Garrison must have read my mind.
by Tim Nolan
the close insects
the shoot—the drip—
the spray of the sprinkler
the heat of the Sun
the flush of your face
the high noon
the high grass
the patio ice cubes
the buzz of them—
the weeds—the dear
like alien life forms—
all Dr. Suessy and odd—
here we go again¬—
we are turning around
again—this will all
happen over again—
and again—it will—