Steadfast

I distinctly remember, as a child, looking at the cover of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and thinking: those words are what I want.  In particular I gravitated towards glory (I’ve never been very interested in power).  That’s what I thought I wanted to be able to say I’d had at the end of my life.  Glory.

The words I lean towards now – as goals, ideals, inspirations – are very different.  They don’t have the glamor or the sparkle of glory. No, the words that I hold onto, and aim for, now are humble.  Nice.  Peaceful.  Solid.  Steadfast.

This last word in particular has been in my mind since I read the following words from Pema Chodron:

How do we cultivate the conditions for joy to expand? We train in staying present. In sitting meditation, we train in mindfulness and maitri: in being steadfast with our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts. We stay with our own little plot of earth and trust that it can be cultivated, that cultivation will bring it to its full potential. Even though it’s full of rocks and the soil is dry, we begin to plow this plot with patience.

Sadly, to my own disappointment, I am far from steadfast.  My footing is unstable, I am blown around by the winds, I feel insubstantial.  I want to be more sure, more certain, more definitive.  I want to trust, in myself and in the world.  I’ve written before of how I give up before things even get hard.  This is a theme in my life, and one I am quite ashamed of: it is rare that I grit my teeth and just stick it out.  Unless, of course, I really have to.  I think of Grace’s birth, or my most recent half marathon.  Both of those were things I truly thought I could not do.  But somehow – in the former, I didn’t have a choice, and in the latter I was determined not to walk, as I had the first time – I pushed through the resistance to the end.

How do I develop this determination, this commitment of spirit and heart?  My friend Pam writes – as usual, gorgeously – about realizing that she, too, has not fully committed to herself.  In the woods, during a trail race, she found reserves and commitment within herself.  Her words made my eyes well with tears (okay, fine, they usually do) and I recognized myself in them.

While I am not at all sure how to become more steadfast, I am certain that the effort is about gradual, not sudden, growth and change.  I must let my few but important episodes of seeing something through become a well I can draw on, a source of strength, a reminder that I actually can stick it out.  I don’t know what else to do other than to keep trying, even as I stumble, to inhabit my unassuming, yet urgent, words: nice. peaceful. solid. steadfast.


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8 Comments

  1. Posted November 30, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    I understand your drive towards those four words. I do.

    They are the exact right words for women running other people’s lives, which is what we working moms do: (and you and I, at work, contribute to the growth of others, don’t we?)

    But there is — within me at least –still that young, single, child- and care-free woman who often wishes for glory rather than nice. Is that wrong, I wonder? And then I realize that these choices I have made have boxed out glory, maybe for good.

    Ah, what a cranky response to your wonderful post.

    MSK Reply:

    Oh whomever you are – thank you! I had this same mixed, somewhat cranky reaction to Lindsey’s unambiguously positive post…yes, I too used to strive to glory, but now strive instead to be peaceful and steadfast, in particular for those I love. And I can say that because over the past half-decade I have succeeded at shedding that professional and intellectual ambition, which was silly and self-absorbed. I am 90% sure that is true. But every now and then, the other 10% of me wonders – perhaps that is the part of me who is still young, single, childless, and carefree (as you say), the one who would study and push herself until I had nothing left in me, who would stick it out and learn without limits. But now when my work gets really hard, well, I’m exhausted, and my brain can’t do that anymore, and it’s time to cook dinner or help the kids anyway. And no of course I can’t accept that really demanding position, because I want to be home by dinnertime with my kids (and I do)…But am I sure I am moving forward toward more lofty goals? Or am I just resigned to redefining my goals, because I can no longer meet the old ones?

    Launa Reply:

    For me, I tell myself I am “moving toward more lofty goals,” as you do. But in the middle of the night, when my sadbrain tells itself the truth, I realize your last sentence is totally true for me. “I am resigned to redefining my goals, because I can no longer meet the old ones.” Exactly as you say.

    Ah well — we are who we become, not what we thought we would be. Nobody ever quite warned me how humble and quiet I would have to get after birthing those children of mine…. but I’m working on it.

  2. Posted November 30, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Beautiful as always. I think too of the girl’s births when I was so strong, so steadfast, so determined. Why does this not translate more often to other things, to wider parts of life? Sigh…

  3. Posted November 30, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Peaceful. Oh yes. I think of my dad’s cousin and his wife, how even with seven kids, all active and loud and busy, their house was always a peaceful haven, their lives always characterized by gentle strength. That is the sort of person I want to be, the sort of home I want. A steadfast peace.

  4. Posted November 30, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I hope you don’t mind but I’m commenting again to test my gravatar. If it worked, how cool :)

  5. Ash
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    “I must let my few but important episodes of seeing something through become a well I can draw on, a source of strength, a reminder that I actually can stick it out.”

    Could not agree more! When I ran my first marathon I realized that my body could do so much more than my brain realized or allowed. My head wanted to quit after mile 18, but I didn’t. I drew on that experience so frequently during grad school and continue to do so.
    One day at a time!

  6. Posted November 30, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I think cultivating “steadfastness” is like cultivating anything…yes, slowly over time, moment by moment decisions (or “choices” like in your last post)…”In this moment, where is there an opportunity for ‘steadfastness’?” A whole world opens up. I’ve seen that with one of my words for the year — “softening.” It’s mindfulness, as you and I both know. You just start EMBODYING it. And then it takes up residence in our very CELLS.

  7. Posted November 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    When I meditate, I repeat these two words: Love and Happiness.

    If people someday say of me, “He loved, and was loved. He was happy, and brought happiness to others,” I will count myself lucky.

  8. Posted December 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    God this is so me! This giving up, this lack of steadfastness is my story too and I know that shame you describe like an old coat. I am so grateful to hear someone else walking with that burden in what looks like from here such an admirable way. Suddenly I don’t feel as much shame in it so much as an understanding that this is the terrain, it’s part of the journey. A part we’re both walking along with many others. I think you’re right there is no quick burst out of it but these little steps are enough and maybe we’re ok just as we are. Nothing to fret so much as just to keep walking .