Archive for May, 2014

Today’s title is a bit extensive, and for that I apologize, but I’ve had some of these things running through my mind over the last two weeks. Part of it is all due to Michael Enright’s Sunday Edition radio programme on the CBC. I listen to it when I am coming home from Mass on Sunday mornings in the car, and then when I’m at home via the podcasts, or late at night when it replays while I’m in bed.

Joan Didion is an excellent writer who broaches a number of big philosophical ideas, all the while sharing the fabric of her life in her work. She wrote The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. The first is a memoir that deals with her husband’s death, while the second is a work that speaks to her daughter’s death in her 30s. In this interview, she speaks of both of them, and she speaks of her grief and loss. In so doing, she sheds light on the sad way that aging, dying, and death is so often avoided and skirted around within our western society.

I heard this interview a few weeks ago, in early to mid-April, but it was a rebroadcast from its original air date of August 26, 2012. It’s been in my head and heart since its rebroadcast last month. You can listen to it, and you really should, here:


The concept of “the unexamined life” intrigues me. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but Joan Didion has said, “the unexamined fact is like a rattlesnake. It’s going to come after you. And you can keep it at bay by always keeping it in your eye line.” Writers, then, have the advantage of being gifted with words; they can write down their lives, examine them, learn from them. In the interview, Didion speaks of how writers don’t know what they’ll write until it’s written down. Only then do you “know how you feel about it.” That’s the part of the creative process that, if you think too much about it, can be a bit mystical, and can freak you out. You feel driven, somehow, to write, document, reflect, ponder, contemplate, and create.

This leads into another recent CBC programme that I often listen to on the weekends. I love Mary Hynes’s Tapestry on CBC. In March of this year, she aired a programme that contemplated the idea that the “unlived life” is taking up too much space in our heads. Hinds spoke to writer and psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips, who wrote the book titled Missing Out: In Praise of an Unlived Life. If you want to listen to the interview, you can do so here, but you’ll need to go further into the podcast. (There is an excellent documentary at the start of the show, though, so if you have time, you might want to have a listen to that, too.) Here is the link:


What Phillips suggests in this interview is that many of us are living two lives, the one we live on a daily basis, and the one we wish we were living, as we imagine it in our heads. The risk of feeling that we might miss out on something by leading the life we are living now is that we’ll feel we haven’t had a “good life.” Phillips suggests we’ve been focusing, in a society that is very aware of psychotherapy, on “if only” or “what if” reveries, with regards to our lives thus far. What if I’d had different parents? He says this is an absurd idea. He says we get caught up in a daydream of who we might have become if we’d had a different family. We can think of Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, “The Road Not Taken,” in terms of how we wonder about what we might have evolved into if we’d taken a different path in life. So, how to combat all of this, this wondering, this sort of regret-filled pondering? I would argue that we need to cultivate mindfulness. In doing so, we create a peace within ourselves, within our minds and hearts, so that we live in each moment. Maybe then, we’ll have fewer regrets as we continually age and grow older. That’s my hope, anyway.

My mindfulness journey happens every day, in every moment. A walk this afternoon, in sunshine after so very many days of rain and cold weather here in Northern Ontario, meant I could focus on the little things. There was the sound of songbirds in spring trees. Those same trees are all about ready to burst into greenery, buds of leaves curled tight, but eager to open. There was the father scooping up his infant son and playing with him in their front yard, giggles echoing everywhere, even over the sound of a far off lawn mower. Then, layered underneath that sound symphony, the tinkling of a distant wind chime carrying on breeze. There was the feeling of how my arms move through space when I stride down streets, and how my legs are strong and carry me wherever I want to go. And today, I was more mindful of the age of my older dog. Sable is 10 now. She loves going for a half hour walk, but near the last stretch, she stops more often to pretend to peer over her shoulder at something of interest. I know, though, that this is a cue for me to slow down, give her a pat and maybe even pick her up for a walk up the final hill in our journey. Slowing down for the dog, if you can believe it, makes me ever more mindful of my surroundings, able to take in scents, sights, and sounds, free to breathe more deeply.

I think we just need to be more mindful, to examine our lives, to be grateful for the small intricacies, and not think “what if” all the time. We can’t damn ourselves in our own minds. It serves no purpose. We do our best. We are kind, compassionate, and connected social beings. We do our best. Maybe we just need to celebrate that more, to count our blessings, and to have gratitude raise up above regret inside our heads and hearts. We do our best. Let’s celebrate that!

Finally, a happy Victoria Day to those of you in Canada! Long weekends herald the summer season here in Ontario and Canada, and we all know this past winter was pioneer-like in its intensity. Give thanks for the sunshine, the spare day of free time, and the friends and family you love.


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