Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking A Leap

Okay, play with me for a moment or two. Today is an “extra” day. It’s a leap year so today is February 29th, and we get three hundred and sixty-six days this year. Of course, we don’t really experience today as extra- it’s still the day after Tuesday and the day before Thursday, and all of our usual Wednesday appointments, tasks or deadlines still apply.

But. . . . what if. . . . you could have an extra day, a holiday that didn’t even count as a holiday, an extra day that was unexpected (no plans made) and open? What if you went to bed on Tuesday the 27th, woke up to and had your extra day and then, after a good night’s sleep, went on with plans and commitments for Wednesday the 28th?

What would you do with that “extra” day? How would you spend it? Where would you go? Who would you be with, or would you take some time alone?

Now, let’s expand this a little. What would you do with an extra week or month or year? What if you were given an extra year that didn’t cost you anything- you wouldn’t get noticeably older, your bank account would stay where it is (no miraculous windfall, but no spiralling into debt just because you weren’t doing the usual things you do to keep life and limb together.)

What would you do with a year of life that was truly open? When I first started to play with this idea I imagined I might go somewhere- Arizona or the south of France. But I realized that my fantasies of going somewhere else are usually fuelled by the hope of getting clear of daily responsibilities so I can write. If it was truly an extra year without those responsibilities, I might be more at home. . . . well, staying at home. (Although I wouldn’t rule out a mid-January trip to somewhere warmer.)

I decided to just sit with this and see what came, mostly for fun, but partly because I know that when we invite our imagination to participate in possibilities . . . . well, we learn something about our deeper desires and our inner longing, and we discover unconscious assumptions that are shaping at least some of how we live.

And here’s what came: If I had an "extra" day or year I’d sit still and follow the impulse to move when it came, following it and moving only as far and as fast as I could while keeping my connection to this impulse rooted in body, heart, and soul. I'd eat what I was hungry for when I was hungry stopping as soon as I no longer felt the impulse to put something in my mouth. I would sleep when I was tired, for as long as I needed, without consideration for the time of day or night. I would be still for as long as it took for the impulse to move to find me- reading, writing, walking, talking- only as fast as and for as long as I felt the impulse to continue. And then I’d stop- mid-bite, mid-stride, mid- sentence- and staying with the stillness, wait for the impulse to find me again.

I would go to the lake when I felt the impulse to be by the water; drive out of town without notice if drawn to, taking only what felt essential, not worrying about plans, letting the day unfold. I would buy the ingredients for a meal when I felt like cooking, perhaps packing it up and taking it to my sons’ or a friend’s to share if the impulse to do so arose. I would sink down into the centre of my being whether alone or with loved ones and wait for the impulse to speak, listening deeply within and to the other.

I have lived this way both on community meditation retreats and when I have set aside solo retreat time both in the wilderness and right here in the city. I have done walking meditations in the midst of rush hour foot traffic at Yonge and Bloor, a busy downtown intersection in Toronto. What I remember most about these times is how spacious they felt, how I leaned into trusting that what needed to be done would get done- and it did! I also remember how continuous connection with the still centre came effortlessly on some daya and on others, had to be consciously sought and found over and over.

And I cannot help but think that I have a choice right now about whether or not I live this way. Oh yes, I need to finish the book I am working on in order to pay my rent- but the best writing comes out of following the soul’s impulses, and I have some savings to carry me through the next year.

What fascinates me is how, even with some freedom and flexibility, I tend to set up internal structures, routines and obligations that make spontaneous living difficult even where it is possible. I dutifully post each day on Facebook and write my weekly blog. I enjoy it, but what if I wrote only and as often as I felt like it instead? I might write more. I might write less. Some days I am drawn to go for a walk but I go to yoga instead because I have paid my membership and need to justify the fee. So silly really. What I've learned when I've set aside retreat time is that if I am really slowing down and following the impulse from deep within I will get the amount and type of exercise, food and rest my body needs, I will find ways to release tension or be with anxiety if it arises, time to express joy and appreciate beauty, ways to lend a hand, be with others, and truly be with myself.

What my imagination shows me is the essence of how I want to live: in the service of soul, of life as I know it intimately within myself and the world, letting go of efficiency for love of the moment, the day, my life. Maybe it’s not about getting a magical “extra” day or year, but learning to move at a soul’s pace- our soul's pace- no matter what is happening around us. Who knows what magic that might make?

Oriah (c) 2012


  1. Oriah, thank you for this. I too long for a living a life at my soul's pace. And, I recognize how often I get in my way due to guilt over not producing more(especially income, smile). Truth is, my soul's pace is slower than most of the world that I know.... or is it? This is a nice reminder to be more present with the source of impulse and to use my imagination more.

    1. You comment prompts an interesting question aboutu the pace of the world. We do, of course, often entrain ourselves to the speed around us (to avoid getting run over if for no other reason) but I wonder if we don't entrain the world to us, especially when we slow down and hold a place of soul-paced living. Hmmmmm. . . . :-)

  2. Thanks for playfully drawing us into this paradigm. Yay Leap Year! To listen to the soul's voice, this is living a divine life, isn't it? And we can do this at any moment, can't we? Your reminder is lovely...

  3. I like this idea, thank you for planting the seed Oriah. I think I may go do a writing exercise based around this before bed tonight. On holidays I love casting aside the clock and the phone that tell us the time, I can see when the sun rises and sets and that is all I need to know. X

    1. Rose, I think practicing this wherever and whenever we can is valuable. Otherwise our habit of filling time and responding to external prompts becomes so ingrained we cannot meander in spaciousness even when it comes.

  4. This is my first visit to your blog altho I have read all 3 of your books (in fact I read each of them twice :))

    Today I recalled the wonderful story you shared of having the impulse to go for a drive which led you to discover your perfect next home. I remembered this because I've been searching for a place during the past couple of weeks and have exhausted myself in the process with too much 'doing and efforting'.

    When I connect with the inner spaciousness and act when the impulse speaks my life becomes easier and things flow far more smoothly.

    Thank you for the post which is a perfectly-timed reminder to slow down and let life become less of a struggle by listening to the inner promptings.

    with many blessings, Dawn

  5. Welcome Dawn! I love that phrase: "inner spaciousness." Can feel myself take a long deep breath just reading it :-)

  6. I must giggle, remembering good ole Bashar saying that "humans have mastered limitation". Also in imaginary scenarios I find myself too shy and still way too caught in the usual *feeling* of being restricted in some way.
    And as I let go of this - I discover myself longing for the chance of opening up to the beauty. Really, for me having extra time it's not much about doing wondrous things... but just about savouring the deliciousness of the sunshine on the lake shore, an icecream and a kiss, a book and a laughter among friends - I mean fully, unlimitedly. Without that bad feeling in the back of my head, reminding me that for this and that reason it will be soon over. As I would never leave, as it would last forever. Yes. I think I will continue to fantasize a little... <3
    Thanks so much for this Oriah!

    In beauty and laughter,
    Fabiola Blue Fish

  7. I read this, now past leap year, and moving closer to the Ides of March!
    Ah the wondrous tension of the leap, and the ground. Thank you Oriah. So happy to discover you. Don't mind me, I am such a late late bloomer ; )

    1. Marguaritte- lol - many of us are. Was just looking at an ad for a book that is coming out by Clarissa Pinkola Estes called "Late Bloomers"- will be out in May- might be worth a look! :-)

  8. yes, thanks for the thoughts. Being caught up in routine, studies, our jobs' demands... is a sickness really. We become alienated from ourselves and become robots. My 15 yr old niece in the UK is a good student but is stressed re her studies.

    which made me research alternative learning... and i realised: secondary school is SO yesterday - geared towards producing obedient wage slaves. And so little time in the week to self-directed ambling or study. They cram them with useless stuff and they come out with virtually no useful lifeskills except the ability to highlight notes or repeat some trite PC motto to please their teacher.

    and they are kept segregated from adults, from the Office or the factory. It's actually a step backwards from when Captain Cook was already a proficient mariner at 16 yrs old.

    secondary school sets up people to follow mindless patterns rather than trust themselves, their intuition, take risks, adventure in the real world.