What is “of-the-essence”?

Sky: Breathe. Think.

Sky and hills.

“Of-the-essence.” What is of the essence? We are programmed to bark back, like schoolchildren proud to have the obvious answer: Time! Time is of the essence!

In other words, to get things done efficiently and quickly, so we can have time for Other Things. Or at least, The Next Thing. Which we will speed through, to get to…yes, yes, you can probably extrapolate. A whole lot of movement, not a lot of stillness, awareness, or joy.


The past few years have brought deep changes for me, like many middle-aged people. Children now adults, off to college and beyond. Yet another move across the country. A career sabbatical that turned permanent. The unexpected death of a long marriage. At the end–illness and surgery.

All of those in a twelve month period.

I was forced to sit in bed, recover, and think. A lot. Time expanded and contracted. I studied what really was of-the-essence for me.

Piece by piece, I took my life into my hands and examined it with a quizzical, rational, outside eye. Used an inside eye, and felt the feelings, saw the overarching themes, the unbalanced and the delightful. Listened to the inner voices and sorted out which ones were helpful and which ones I could note and say Thanks but no thanks; you stand over there.

My relationship with food changed dramatically as did my relationship with writing, my body, my A-plus student behavior, my work, my daily practices. It’s been five years, more changes and medical issues arose, and I still struggle with making the positive changes permanent.

So what’s of the essence? The answer for me includes lots of gerunds, “-ing” words, because it is a process, which includes continual adjustment.

Paying attention. Breathing. Loving my body as it is, helping it be as healthy as possible without insane expectations, or mean ones, like the voices from my past might talk me into. Spending time in meadows and mountains, rivers and lakes. Taking walks and hikes and doing/living yoga in all kinds of places. Talking to my friends and neighbors. Puzzling with a light heart about how to create paid work that is an extension of my life, not a withdrawal from my life—and incorporates knowledge and experiences that could help others.

On my refrigerator I have two pages of specific personal investigation of two of the eight Yamas and Niyamas (restraints and observances) from Patanjali’s Eight Limbed Path.

What I have chosen to pay particular attention to are Ishvar-Pranidhana (openness to the play of the universe) and Tapas (discipline/heat). Within openness I need discipline and within discipline I need gentleness, balance, dedication with relaxation. I ask what is of the essence in my life, looking at it through these two observances?

On the Frigidaire I also list my work to be done, which is not just paid work but how I spend my days (though it often involves business); my sadhana or yoga practices and learning; and my personal needs—which include healthy food, sleep, clean and organized living space, exercise, writing, and time with those I love and cherish.

I like organizing these things in relation to Tapas and Ishvar-Pranidhana; I’ve stopped taking it so seriously and giggle at my A-plus approaches and then let go of them. The list is studied almost every morning over a pot of loose tea, which is part of my ritual of greeting the day.

Every morning as I sip tea and write, I look out over the hill to the east, where the sun lights up the red and yellow leaves still left on the trees; that view which transforms to bare smoky tree limbs and then snow, sleet, winter sun, and then the sweet greening and burst of leaves in spring, to trees that flower and glow.

In that light: what is of the essence today? what would make this a glorious day? How can I fulfill some of these self-requirements in a way gentle to myself?

Q: So what IS of the essence?

A: That’s what I’m concentrating on finding out and living into, day by day, experience by experience! In my walks, workshops, consulting and writing, I hope to share this “living into,” not for self-aggrandizement but instead to help others to listen to body and spirit and ask themselves that same question, that has been so important to me, and find their own answers.

What is of-the-essence, for you?

The elm moves into fall.

The elm moves into fall, then winter. Then spring, summer, then fall again.


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