I returned home to Burnet after spending the past week with my grandmother in San Marcos.
She lives on the top of a hill on a beautiful piece of property about 10 miles out of town. We spent every morning sipping coffee outside, listening to birds, and reading. In the mid afternoon I would drive down to the San Marcos river — to the special spot under the railroad tracks. The water is clear and swift and cold. I would dive in, wade around, feel the water rushing around me, and then hop out to read a chapter or two from a biography on Teddy Roosevelt (which I’ve been thoroughly enjoying!). After running some errands, perhaps to the local coffee roasters, the dog grooming shop, the jewelry store or the grocery store we would drive back home, fix a simple supper, and continue binge watching the Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.
I was living the essence of summer. It was sublime.
I felt as the speaker of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” must have when remarking, “I loafe and invite my soul, / I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”
The loafing I did out-loafed any loafing I’ve done before, for a particularly obvious reason: I’ve graduated, I taught my last lessons, and don’t start graduate school until August!
Never in my life have I been more free of commitment.
There is nothing I NEED to study. There is nothing I NEED to read. There is nothing I NEED to finish. There is nothing I NEED to practice.
It is, quite honestly, an odd, luxurious feeling. It gives me the chance to live out the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have to do anything?”
And so far the answer has been fairly close to what I expected it would be…
- nature time
- listening, watching, reading as they relate to learning (about violin or otherwise)
- rituals: meditation, writing, gung fu, violin (tonalizations and scales — not rigorous practice)
- meeting with close friends
And while doing all of these things (camping, reading, meditating, hanging out with good friends), I’ve also been thinking. I’ve been thinking about the two years to come– what I want to be involved myself in, how I want to organize my time, who I want to meet, and the sort of work I want to do.
I’ve also been thinking about my past four years — what choices did I actually make, what choices were lucky, and what “choices” were imposed. Where did my energy go, and was it well spent? What 20 percent of effort reaped 80 percent of my growth? If I were to do it again what would I do differently? What are the things I want to repeat, to really teach myself, and what are the things I can let fall away or deliberately unlearn?
I have thoughts, lots of them, but I think it’s okay to not answer them right now. I think it’s okay to live in a weird/awesome/fun/non-commital-summer-time and enjoy that time for what it is — and what it isn’t.
If there is anything I’ve learned from the past few weeks (while I was paddling in the river or steeping tea in my gaiwan or hiking in the mountains) it is the importance of stepping back, cultivating empty space, and not doing. Because in this zone of freedom there is the space to introspect. To really follow what you want to do. To really know where your heart is steering you. To really know who you are.
Make sure that if you are on the path to a career in performing and teaching, and especially if you already all to familiar with the routine of daily work, your create the space to know who you are by relieving yourself (even if just for a week) of all commitments. And in that space, really listen deeply to your thoughts, words, and actions. Begin to understand yourself.
As zen buddhist Shunryu Suzuki said in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, “The best way is to understand yourself, and then you will understand everything. So when you try hard to make your own way, you will help others, and you will be helped by others. Before you make your own way you cannot help anyone, and no one can help you.”