I’m not coming up with my usual smart answers. I’ve been racking my noggin’ to craft a clever and pithy framing for it all. I’ve scoured shelvesful of poetry and mysticism. I spent half a morning opening various spiritual books to random pages, praying that my eye would be drawn to land on the perfect message. I’ve amassed a pile of notes without any clear idea of how they’re connected or what they’re all about.
Of course the trouble is that ever since it occurred to me that I wanted to explore OVERWHELM this week I’ve felt… well… overwhelmed by everything.
I’ve been in one of those mental spaces where every thought instantly evolves (or devolves) into forty additional to-do list items. Where when one task finally gets crossed off the list, multiple new things sprout in its place like the regrowing heads of the monstrous hydra from Greek mythology. This is familiar, yes? I think it’s how life occurs to a lot of us a lot of the time.
I don’t know if I should be addressing big-picture stuff, trusting that all the detailed individual pieces will fall into place once I clarify and commit to the large container I’m holding for my life. Or if, instead, I should just nibble away at one bitty thing at a time, whatever is in front of me, not worrying about whether or not it’s THE most important thing, THE thing that most needs my attention, THE thing that will ultimately make all the differences for which I’m yearning.
Do you know the story about the red geranium? I feel like I’ve encountered it a dozen times but I wasn’t able to track down the original source. [Trying to find it online yielded another ream of ideas, but did nothing to clarify my original point]. The story goes like — a person purchases a red geranium in a pot to brighten up her kitchen… the pretty plant makes her curtains seem a little shabby in comparison, so she sews some nice new ones… these fresh curtains prompt her to repaint the cabinets… then the walls… progressively, her inspiration to repaint, refinish, and re-do spreads down the hall, through the rest of the house, until eventually everything has been beautifully renewed!
In my overwhelmed state, I hear this story a couple of different ways. On one hand, it makes me not want to begin anything — because, oh my god, who knows where it’s going to lead and how much time it’s going to take?!?! Buy a freakin’ potted plant and pretty soon you’re engaged in a down-to-the-studs remodel?! Not today, Satan. I think I’m just gonna binge-watch Netflix instead.
On the other hand, and this is probably the intended moral of the story — maybe it’s just a sweet reminder to start small. Doing something cheery that feels good and makes a happy moment, like putting a geranium in the window, can lead to who-knows-what without our worrying so much about it beforehand. We can simply do it for its own sake.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Oh, snap. Once again I’m reminded that a big part of my problem is that I keep looking at things backwards and upside down. I’ve been relating to Life like there’s a real danger of overwhelm if I’m not careful in it, if I don’t stay on top of it, if I don’t manage it and figure it out and get my priorities screwed on straight. When the truth is — and the only thing that can ever actually lift me out of a sense of perpetual victimhood — is remembering that I’m in the driver’s seat here. I’m causing and creating, constantly.
Yeah, life’s full of troubles and trials and tasks. That’s not going to stop. Yeah, there are other people with conflicting interests and complicating agendas. That’s not going to stop either. But being overwhelmed by that, absolutely, is a state of mind. Honestly, I can be overwhelmed by a stack of dirty dishes as quickly and totally as I can be by an international humanitarian crisis. Overwhelm is almost entirely relative and relational; it has very little to do with what’s going on out there, and everything to do with who I know myself to be in it. Once again, like so much, the trick is trust and faith in our own ENOUGH-NESS.
If there’s overwhelm to be done, we can be the ones to do it — we can overwhelm the world, rather than it all over us. I mean, who else, and why not? Individually and together, we’re creating what comes next. With our stories, our thoughts, our million-million small steps, we make it all up as we go along.
And sure, it’s fine to be strategic, to plan ahead, to be aware of consequence, and to consider where things might lead. Still, what’s always here to do right now is the little bit of good in front of us.
The big-picture, life-purpose, dharma-of-it-all questions are always going to vex us and challenge us and call from deep to unfathomable deep. Okay. We can and will explore those together. We’re enough. But maybe when we’re feeling overwhelmed — by dirty dishes or global conflict — we can try putting a red geranium in the window and see what happens. We’re certainly enough to do that, too.
I really don’t know where this is going to end up, if this is what I’ll be talking about on Sunday, or not. I guess that’s my point. For right now, I’m going to prepare to get together and sing some songs and enjoy each other’s company in our beautiful shared space. I’m pretty confident that I’ll talk about something. And out of our togetherness — everything… whatever… yes.
I can’t wait to be with you. See you Sunday, June 2. Service at 10:00, at Bosque Center for Spiritual Living. XO, Drew