Going Away and Coming Back (absence makes heart grow fonder and presence makes the perception grow sharper)



I’ve been doing my best to follow some Zen habits for a happy life. I forget most of the time, but very now and then I remember to Do One Thing At A Time, Do It Slowly, Do it Completely, and to Do Less. Early this morning, I remembered this as I cleaned my house. I am leaving town for the weekend and like most people, I have to sterilize before I go. Something about coming home to even the slightest mess is just completely unacceptable to me.

My big Black Shepherd has been using my light tan couch as her day bed. She sheds in large clumps. Any time the seasons change, like now, she sheds especially impressive volumes of gray black hair. It’s not pretty. Often I think I see a small animal and it’s actually my dog’s hair. No, I’m not kidding.

I lost the little vacuum attachment especially designed to remove the pet hair from my couch. I moved recently and lots of my stuff is still in boxes in the basement.

It didn’t seem like I could do it. The plain vacuum hose wasn’t working even after what seemed like an hour literally scrubbing the couch with the hose.

Because I wasn’t distracted by doing three other things at the same time, I looked at the clock and saw it had actually been about 3 minutes. I noticed my frustration, stopped, and thought about a solution.

It came to me easily. Inspiration always happens when I make the time for it. I closed my eyes as I ran the hose back and forth over the hairy spot. I forced myself to keep them closed while I counted to 60 seconds. When I opened them, I saw progress, enough to motivate me for another minute, then another, until the task was complete. The total time was about 6 minutes, start to finish.

I was out of town last weekend too. I had a houseguest here while I was gone and when I came home, I could see she had lost weight. She’s been working hard on her diet and I complimented her on her appearance, telling her that her efforts were clearly paying off big.

Of course, she didn’t notice the change in herself. She is with herself constantly. It had only been 4 days, but as we all know, when you leave someone even for a few days and then see them again, if something has changed you know it.

The trip this weekend is a road trip, about a 7 hour drive in a car. I’ve been to this same place every year for thirty years. It always surprises me when the way back seems so much shorter than the way up.

Sitting there with the vacuum hose, I realized something. Distance is required for accurate perspective. You can’t see things from the middle of them. And it is especially difficult to see progress in the tougher areas of your life.

This summer, I’ve accomplished quite a bit. A great new job as a writer, more book sales than I imagined, a move into my dream home, and a successful re-launch for my son into his sophomore year in New York. I’ve steadied my income, and after a few years of near constant solitude writing a book, I’ve hosted more happy dinner parties than I can count. Everywhere I go now, my main and most important goal is to be kind. That alone is a big achievement for a driven woman like me.

But I don’t see it. I feel frustrated that I am not further along. I feel like a disappointment to many people, as I awkwardly transition from a career in finance to a new writing life. And it hit me as I held the hose for the vacuum cleaner. I have to take a little time and look away.   I have to close my inner eyes for a moment and stop analyzing myself, standing in the middle of my mind and wondering why I am getting nowhere. With just a short pause, I can see.

Many pieces have fallen into place. If I keep at it, things will get better.

So if you’re feeling lost, frustrated, alone, or stuck, remember. Shut your eyes once in a while. Keep going and force yourself to wait before you assess your progress. Sometimes, if you just keep moving, eyes shut against the evidence to the contrary, you’ll move yourself much farther than you imagined.


“Don’t struggle so much, the best things happen when not expected.”

— Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez




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