Choosing a Wholehearted Life
I love the David Whyte quote, “The antidote to exhaustion is not rest, it’s wholeheartedness“. I imagine this to mean waking every day to ask my body and soul, what must I do today to feel good and alive? And then doing it – with a whole heart.
It seems like a luxury to live this way. What mother has the time to listen to the longings of their wild heart? There are too many bills to pay, real work to be done, other people’s needs to take care of.
I have been experimenting with it, nonetheless. Part of my practice has been about quietly refining my life by asking my body what it loves and bypassing my mind. I have made a habit of constantly asking my body, “How does this feel? And how does this feel?” Slowly, patterns in what my heart loves are beginning to expose themselves, leading to minutes, sometimes hours of wholehearted living.
What mother has the time to listen to the longings of their wild heart? There are too many bills to pay, real work to be done, other people’s needs to take care of.
I have discovered that my body loves gardening, even though my mind is convinced I’m terrible at it. Despite my lack of green thumb, I am beginning to see it is my duty to slowly prioritise the garden, to spend more time out there with my hands in the dirt because it makes me feel alive, as it did when I was a child. I love mulching and weeding, crave the smell of rotting leaves. Isn’t it strange that dying leaves smell so fresh?
And then there is the work my imagination loves: writing. This, I must do just as surely as I must be out in the garden. By listening to my body and its signals, I know that the part of writing I love the most is imagining what could be and putting words to it. For me, writing my imaginings has always preceded creating them in real life. Writing is my magic wand, sowing the seeds of dreams that seemed impossible only yesterday.
Today I imagine a life where I wake up with the sun and go out into the garden, harvesting breakfast for my family. Then, revitalised, I go inside with a warm cup of turmeric tea or coffee and begin to type the contents of my soul. I type until I must rest or eat, and then I go back to the garden to again get my hands dirty and wake up my body. Writing this scene somehow makes it more realistic, more possible.
Maybe I’ll grow tired of this kind of bliss, the gardening and writing. Perhaps a new seed will ask to be planted and my body will tell me about it. I might suddenly stop typing, craving to be filled up by colour, my hands dipped in paint, scrawling wildly on canvas. I might begin to go on long walks, or to read a lot, or surf.
After a day of wholeheartedly living; a day that has had enough spaces, a day where I’ve mostly done what I love, I’ve miraculously found time to complete the cleaning. I feel happy and calm when I greet my husband and kids at the end of the day.
After discovering what it is I must do for a small chapter of my life (for I often cannot see beyond the headlights), then comes the work of sifting and refining what is important and what can be discarded. I have the power to identify what exhausts me and what uplifts me. There are things that must be done, like washing up and cleaning. And then there are things that I can let go of, like shopping for too much stuff or going out on the weekends – things that my body does not love. After a day of wholeheartedly living; a day that has had enough spaces, a day where I’ve mostly done what I love, I’ve miraculously found time to complete the cleaning. I feel happy and calm when I greet my husband and kids at the end of the day.
I imagine a wholehearted life is a constant pattern of sifting, refining, planting new seeds, composting dead ideas and tasks. I believe it needs a degree of quietness and reflection – attributes that are not easy to come by in an anxious culture, but worth aiming for. If exhaustion is the hallmark of our frantic society, then wholeheartedness is surely our medicine.