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breathe vs. achieve

By Jana

like a sunset

What can we do but keep on breathing in and out,
modest and willing, and in our places? ~Mary Oliver

Last night in our Study Group, a friend gave an awesome lesson about world religions and what we can glean from various faith traditions to augment our own spiritual paths. She read a passage about the difference between ‘western’ traditions versus ‘eastern’ traditions, specifically noting that western traditions emphasize progression whereas the eastern foster satisfaction with the here and now–“being” in the moment.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot today. I often work so hard to achieve things, yet I crave just sitting in solitude or the time to lose myself in a flower or to lie across my bed with a purring cat beside me. I have so many lofty goals–books to write, places to travel, classes to teach, and so on. But I feel a tension between the ambition it will take to accomplish these goals…and the desire to sit in solitude.

I think for now I am choosing the latter. And tomorrow I will take up the pursuit again. But today, I may just breathe awhile.

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.
~Robert Louis Stevenson

This post originally appeared on pilgrimsteps.com


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com

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  1. EmilyCC says:

    Beautful picture, beautiful post…thanks, Jana!

  2. Janna says:

    For the last month, I have been taking meditative walks almost every day. Essentially, the walk entails 30-45 minutes of strolling around the park thinking about nothing. When I first started, I was astounded at a) how many thoughts run through my mind and b) how many of those thoughts are inconsequential and unproductive at best and hurtful and destructive at worst. Since taking my walks, I’ve learned to observe and dismiss (gently) most of my thoughts. Some days this process is easier than others, which in and of itself is an interesting observation. Overall, I’ve learned that taking time “to be” each day helps me more efficiently use the time and energy that I spend in pursuit of my ambitions.

    (As a fun side note, during my meditative walk the other day, I saw Garrison Keillor playing catch with his daughter in the park.)

  3. Zenaida says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of that running around trying to be ambitious stuff lately, and I’m really craving some of the existing stuff.
    Practicing does that for me. It’s relieving and very satisfying to spend time going through familiar scales, perfecting, and tweaking technique that becomes a deeper part of muscle memory, conscious and unconscious memory. I do get distracted sometimes with thoughts that wander through my scales, but I can always bring it back to the basics.
    Practice as meditation…I think I may be on to something.

  4. morgan says:


    This is the EXACT dilemma I’ve been facing this year. I have goals to become a doctor, but the work load is killing me. There are days when I would rather sit at home and read a good book than do anymore schooling. Thanks for your insight!

  5. Kiri Close says:

    your photos are delicious! if the photo above in this post had a flavor, i think it would be salty and tart sweet raspberry sherbet;o) MMMMM!!!

  6. Kiri Close says:

    Jana, there are months when I wake up in the morning to all my duties and say, “screw this!” which means that the dishes have to be washed by someone else, the laundry will pile high, we order out for dinner,and the homework turned in late.

    I do this because it makes me happy. Life’s too short for me to miss the breath in my nostrils, the light in my eyes, the flowers at my feet, the dark chocolate to stuff my face with, the lounging at the pool for too many hours, the excitement of complete nothingness.

    It’s during these sabbaticals that my best dreaming and ways to approach dream making&achieving come to me, particularly late at night when phantoms resurrect whispers of ideas to me in writing, reading, thinking.

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