Sitting Still. Sometimes.

How’s that quest to understand eternity, you might ask? Well, now that it is time for the McAlpine Consulting for Growth Thanksgiving newsletter, I realized that I better check back in on my last blog post to see where I left off on my big life question of “What are we doing here, exactly?” Looking back at my May blog, I see that I created a pretty long list of sub-questions, readings and research for myself to find the answer. I asked readers to stay tuned to how I sort out eternity.

What?? I need a year’s sabbatical just to make a dent in what looks like a Philosophy PhD dissertation.

At least I noted that it might take me awhile.

So, taking a page out of my daily meditation practice, I’ll start with where I am at today. As I opened my laptop to start writing, of course I first looked through my emails. Huge mistake – thirty minutes later, I see an email from the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, advertising a Friday Day-after-Thanksgiving retreat:
Sitting still,
walking, moving and consuming mindfully.
A day spent in awareness and gratitude,
stopping instead of shopping!

Does writing on my laptop downtown at my favorite Starbucks count as sitting still? For me, in the middle of a busy Monday work day, it does. And after about 11 months of consistent meditation practice, I do have multiple moments – weekly, not daily – where I am walking, moving and consuming mindfully. Not yet a Zen Master, but definitely a Zen baby.

“A day spent in awareness and gratitude” sounds like a giant luxury right now. Does a recent trip to New Orleans for a work conference that included two pre-conference days of play with my co-worker and my partner count? It sure is easy to be aware and grateful when you are in 70 degree sunshine, listening to street jazz, eating creole and drinking bourbon on a porch. Now that it’s 30 degrees, icy and in the pre-holiday push to cram in work before we “unplug” for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am aware of my anxiety, which I’m not very grateful to be noticing.

And how does one “stop instead of shop”, when you have a large extended family and great co-workers that you are either hosting for holiday gatherings or buying presents to celebrate the love you share together? The creativity starts to wash away and the mind freezes as the days tick down to the gatherings and I acknowledge I won’t get this all done.

Turning the clock back from today, I looked through my writing journal to see where my study of my big question took me over the last six months. Here’s the big takeaway:
• I made a lot of lists. Things I’m grateful for. Additional life questions I want to answer. Concerns that I have about work. Family and friends that I’m worrying about. The similarities and differences between the process of a baby being born and a person dying. Definitions of eternity and the relationship to time and space. The meaning of suffering. Patterns that come with anxiety. What brings peace and happiness. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in my life.
• And a long logic model with main points and sub points to answer my big question that is either philosophy genius or a little eccentric.

The closest I got to experiencing moments of true mindfulness was on a two-week trip to France with family, where I let go of the anxiety and need to control the outcomes of each day. Easy to let the moments come and be in each one. Back home from the trip, I did sit in the sun by the Chicago River with my dog Gus, watching the dragonflies skim the water, little minnows flit under grey submerged stones, birds fly overhead in lazy circles. As I sat, I wondered if it is enough just to be one creature in the world around me, with no assumption of greater purpose or another life to come? What if we all stepped back, and just had a simple life that is a beacon of tranquility and comradeship? Seeing our purpose as only finding our individual rhythm with the multitude of living creatures and molecules, on one planet that is one among many stars and solar systems?

Today, I’m thankful to have this blog and to have this life to be of use.

Now it’s time to unplug, and start to dig into food, family, friends and fun. Eternity will still be there when I get back to it next week.


Laura McAlpine (she/her) is the Principal of McAlpine Consulting for Growth, LLC and has over 30 years of management and leadership expertise in non-profit health and social service organizations. Laura mixes her love of information technology and her keen interest in politics with her Twitter feed, where she can be found following the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee staff, as well as political commentators such as Donna Brazile and Rachel Maddow.

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