“Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
Mary Oliver wrote these words in a poem titled “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?” When I first read this, I heard it echoing all around me, a ghostly voice whispering a quiet revelation that knocked all the wind out of my lungs.
Of course, I knew this truth - that I wasn’t really living. I knew it, and I pushed it aside. I buried it beneath to-do lists and commitments. I called it necessary. I used it as a measure of success. Too busy to live. Too busy to breathe. I simply kept going long after everyone else went home.
I took rest in little sips, only if required, to keep hiking up the mountain of achievement. I assumed that since I liked to stay busy, that meant I liked to work constantly. I no longer believe that at all. One can be busy chasing joy, peace, rest, comfort, and success.
What is the use of succeeding if you aren’t actually living?
I began to imagine a different life. I gave myself the gift of envisioning time spent beyond a desk. The permission to have breaks, evenings, days off. A life where I can watch my daughter grow up with a mother who is always here for her. A life where I know the smell of summer grass and the feel of sunshine on my weary body, finding happiness in the pursuit of joys that don’t make me any money. A life at least half offline and out of office.
When I daydreamed of simplicity and serenity, I thought of a field of sunflowers at dusk. I saw tall, velvety stalks waving in the breeze. The early autumn air was still sleepy and warm, like a familiar old blanket perfumed with leaves and bonfires. With reverence, I noticed the heads of elder sunflowers bent forever eastward while young buds sought to face the fading light, a worship hymn to the sun.
Sunset rays streamed through the leaves. Dust motes float in the thickness of the amber-tinted air, like bubbles in honey. In my dream of peace, I lay on the soil and felt the quiet thrum of the earth. Ancient things rested beneath while the buzzing of bugs sang over my head. I let every worry escape my body and simply existed in my dreamy, golden idyll.
I saw it was possible to be at peace, living how humans are meant to. I hope you see it too.