I just awoke from a deep sleep. I was taking a nap in the middle of the day.
I am lying on my canopied, queen-size bed. A soft cotton blanket is thrown over my legs. My sweet but frantic Dalmatian, Lucy, is finally quiet.
She sleeps soundly, cuddling against my side.
I am totally at peace. I am relaxed and comfortable. December seems a world away.
My blinds are drawn. The room is dark, warm and quiet except for Lucy’s deep breathing and the ticking of my clock. Tic. Toc. Tic. Toc. All I can hear now are the sounds from my clock. My solitude is shattered.
Apprehension strikes me, and anxiety’s cold fingers squeeze my pounding heart. My chest tightens as I hear my mother’s memory call out to me, “Go outside in the fresh air and play.”
“Be productive,” she says. “Don’t be lazy! Make the most out of each day.”
I feel guilty. She does not approve of napping. I have cards to write and gifts to wrap. I still have not found the perfect Christmas tree. Value is in “doing,” and just “being” is a waste of time.
Now I am not present. I am ungrounded. I feel like a child’s toy boat bouncing wildly on an open sea.
Wait! I am the captain of my own ship now, and I know my mother’s message is untrue. There’s value in being, and it’s OK to nap, sit quietly and be alone with my thoughts.
I breathe a deep breath, pushing air into my tight chest. As my breath flows in, I relax, giving myself permission to be.
I allow my mind to wander, observing my thoughts like passing clouds. One by one they float into my consciousness, then slowly drift away.
By observing my mind’s chatter, I begin to quiet it. A silky softness falls over me as my racing mind slows and begins its rest. Once again, I am relaxed and present. I am grounded, and my thoughts are clear.
I reflect that I have taken little time to sit and think. Most my life has been about doing, and most of what I have accomplished I accomplished through sheer force of will.
Setting goals and meeting goals. Action and reaction. Living life with my nose pressed flat against the grindstone.
“You can do anything, son, if you work hard enough,” my father lectured me throughout my youth. Ashamed to be gay, I worked even harder. I had to be a success.
But success did not bring happiness. At midlife, I lacked meaning. At 39, I came out and reclaimed my life.
Now, I want to be different. I want to both be and do.
No longer do I want my “to do” list to trivialize and control my life. Instead of focusing only on the outcome, I want to be more present in every task I undertake.
I want to always examine my intention. By tuning into intention, the simplest of tasks finds meaning, and I enjoy the process more.
I used to scoff at those who spoke of process. Like my father, results mattered more to me. I now understand how being attentive during the process enhances the final results.
I write a monthly column for gay men and women who have lived, or are living, a straight life. Called “Confessions of a Late Bloomer,” my column addresses the challenges of coming out later in life.
In the past, I would feel productive only when a column was complete. Now, as I write each piece, I savor the writing by remembering the men and women who will read my work.
Even with my newfound awareness, I am not always successful. Sometimes I write the column mindlessly and for the wrong reasons: to gain approval, look good or appear smart.
Still, my intention is to do all tasks differently, and by doing so infuse my life with more meaning.
I breathe in my resolve. My mother’s voice is now silent, and my guilt has disappeared.