Friday Dispatch: Unencumbered
The tender work of a simple midday walk
Yesterday, a lunch date got rescheduled at the last minute. I ate some leftovers and heard the siren song of the screen, with no shortage of work I could do in the unexpected “free” hour.
But then a different song, a sweeter one, a softer one, called to me.
I washed my bowl, put on my sandals, and stepped outside. The daylily I had taken note of on Wednesday, still closed up tight, had bloomed. Since it’s our first full year renting this house, seeing what flowers are on the property has been an ongoing gift. I looked up at the sky and took a deep breath, my mind still swirling with work things and life things and all the things…
Towards the end of the street, a rose bush beckoned and I stopped to take a closer look. The color, the petals, the layers – almost unbearably beautiful. I snapped a couple of photos and texted them to my beloveds. Soft. That word fluttered to mind as I continued my walk, now into the park, past the playground, kids in swim suits spinning in circles, some families eating lunch.
A whiff of chlorine from the splash pad mingled with the freshly mown grass transported me to summers past, not one in particular but an amalgam of every summer ever, every age – the day camp I hated that to this day I associate with Jell-O Pudding Pops (remember those?), the August that found me half-heartedly “studying” for the GRE, smoking Marlboros and listening to the Cranberries, and a thousand other memories.
A person talking on the phone with an intense air about them, pacing back and forth in the middle of the park. A couple with a miniature dachshund on a blanket under a tree. A peacefulness settled over me. Even writing about this now I feel the slowness return, the steadiness of just walking, not for “exercise,” not to get anywhere, but simply to walk. Easy. Simple. Unencumbered by having any real goal or purpose.
early 14c., "burden, vex, inconvenience," from Old French encombrer "to block up, hinder, thwart," from Late Latin incombrare, from in- "in" (from PIE root *en "in") + combrus "barricade, obstacle," probably from Latin cumulus "heap" (see cumulus). Meaning "hinder, hamper" is attested in English from late 14c. Related: Encumbered; encumbering.
not having any burden or impediment.
"he needed to travel light and unencumbered"
Barricade, obstacle, hinder, hamper, block up, burden, vex.
So often, these are the qualities we live inside of, the things we default to, the focus of our attention. Life presents no shortage of things to be vexed about, from the machinations of managing everyday life, even at its best, even when things are relatively solid and stable, to stressors involving relationships, health, money, and often some combination of the three, to the collective and systemic sources of burden that impact some of us more than others yet ultimately all of us, if you take the broadest planetary view of things.
We could all laundry list the things that burden us, block us creatively and sometimes literally, and hinder our efforts to create the lives and the world we all want and deserve. What I’m curious about today, though, is a question that sits adjacent to this observation:
When and/or where do you feel unencumbered?
When I got back from the park yesterday, I returned to my computer. The work I needed to do was waiting for me. The meetings on my calendar were still on my calendar. The tech glitches that would steal half of one of my client sessions would still be glitchy. The paperwork, the unmade phone calls, the incessant mind chatter, the running to-do lists, the things I want to write but haven’t yet – all of it remained unchanged.
What changes when we make space to be unencumbered is not the world outside of us, at least not at first. What changes is internal. And as we well know, tending to our insides tends to alter how we relate to everything else, too.
That internal shift might not be a big deal – I’m not talking about some kind of altered state, where suddenly everything rolls off your back like water off a duck. I’m talking more about the small returns to self that happen every time we actively choose spaces, places, people, and ways of being that soften our edges and peel back some of our layers, like the gorgeous petals in those pink roses.
Oh, here I am. Oh, here is the ease that’s always there, no matter how covered up it can get by the business and busy-ness of life, the worries and the woes, some transient and trivial, others serious and more difficult to tease out.
This morning, I asked my son and spouse where they feel the most unencumbered. Their answers included:
In a lake
By the ocean
On the yoga mat
For me, some answers are:
floating on my back in a pond
walking in the city
watching the clouds
There are layers here, too, and I suspect I could keep going with this question into deeper territory. Naturally, what awaits there may require some care and invite me to look at where I make my sense of ease dependent on outside circumstances or other people, as opposed to the ease I can cultivate and honor within myself, all on its own.
In other words, a simple walk can become tender work.
Like a rose or a lily, a seemingly simple question becomes a portal to something beautiful, but take time to bloom. Give it time – and don’t forget to stop to marvel at its softness, and at your own.
Shabbat Shalom and love,
The Countdown is ON
I’m getting so excited to launch my first-ever eCourse in July! It's called Getting Words on the Page and it's designed to help you start, enliven, and sustain a writing practice. And it’s totally asynchronous, so you can start anytime and go at your own pace. Keep on eye out for news!
Eat the Cake
At the grocery store today,
I bought two smash cakes,
one chocolate, one vanilla,
one with orange frosting,
one with pink frosting.
In case you don't know,
smash cakes are small replicas
of full-size cakes, perfect, say,
for babies celebrating
their first birthdays.
I'm not celebrating
anything in particular.
No big milestone moment,
no specific accomplishment
or threshold or rite of passage
or occasion or reason for cake.
Honestly, I was just really in the mood
and didn't feel like making one myself.
At the bakery counter,
I took my time looking –
They had fancy European
cakes, dense gooey brownies,
cupcakes of course.
But the smash cakes
called me by a childhood name,
and I smiled to myself
as I ordered.
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