Why do I flee from you?

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I wake up, look out the window at the vibrant green trees, breathe deep of the fresh country air. This lovely peace lasts for roughly 12 seconds, until the day’s to-do list crowds my mind, urging run, run, run. Do this, do that, hurry, hurry, hurry.

Of course, my complaint is as common as dust. If your calendar is anything like mine – and I suspect it is – each day is filled with appointments, reminders and tasks. Unstructured time is virtually non-existent. In a word, we are busy, busy people. Even my morning meditation practice along with the hour I take to read poetry and chapters from spiritual growth books (never novels!) have that flavour of Worthwhile Tasks That Must Be Done.

This constant doing distracts me from genuinely exploring the territory of my soul. It fatigues. It parches my soul. I know this. And yet the doing feels like a drug – I keep returning to get the adrenalin hit resulting from the constant internal revving up to get more and more done.

The poet Marie Howe, with her trademark precision about the dilemmas in ordinary modern life, accurately captures our modern addiction to busyness and distraction in her poem Prayer. Even though we yearn for that deep, spacious connection with spirit, we turn away to “more important” things like “the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage /I need to buy for the trip.” In the heart of the poem, Howe asks “The mystics say you are as close as my own breath./ Why do I flee from you?” even as she turns away to rise from her chair.

Laughing and crying at the same time, I recognize myself in the poet’s voice. “Why do I flee from you?” Maybe, just maybe, now is the time to let that question truly sink in, and stir things up. But first, let me finish this blog posting so that I can slide under the wire of my self-imposed commitment to post before the end of the month.


Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention – the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

Marie Howe



  1. Wendy Sarno

    June 1, 2017

    Oh Mary Lou, you and Marie Howe capture it again! I reached for my device no sooner than my meditation gong sounded and went to your post! Perfect! As I’m already rushing ahead in my mind to this full morning. Thank you for reminding me to sit just a bit longer, to gaze a little more.



  2. janice falls

    June 1, 2017

    ‘a story I forgot to tell’ – the stories of all our lives, the ‘adrenaline hit’ we all seek. It is words like yours and a poem like this that can help us to stop, and breathe, if we can even take the time to read them. Let us not flee, if even for only a moment. Thank you Mary Lou for this moment of peace and beauty. love, Jan

  3. Mary Lou van Schaik

    June 1, 2017

    Dear Wendy and Jan – I shake my head, ruefully, at this attitude of mine, to consider soul food – pausing, listening inwardly, reflecting — as dessert rather than the main meal! Thanks to both of you for stopping by. Love – Mary Lou

  4. Sherry Galey

    June 1, 2017

    Such a good question! A question that really gets to the heart of the matter. Your insightful comments and this wonderful poem remind me of an article by Andrew Sullivan in NY Magazine called “I Used to be a Human Being” in which he struggles with the same things that most of us do — the addiction to dopamine hits from constant online connection and the inability to just “be”. He talks about what happened when he retreated to a silent meditation centre and what he was fleeing from. It made me realize that I need to flee less and face more and one way to do this was to drastically cut down on my online time. And it does seem to help. But I will definitely keep reading your blog Mary Lou! So much to reflect on here.

    • Mary Lou van Schaik

      June 5, 2017

      Dear Sherry – Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, and for the reference to the Andrew Sullivan piece – sounds like it’s definitely worth reading. Interestingly, my poetry Bard Circle will be attending a retreat led by our spiritual teacher Kim Rosen on the subject, “The Courage to Stop.” In the past, whenever we’ve done ‘virtual retreats’ – taken 24 hours in silence, completely off-line, it has felt wonderfully liberating and revitalizing. I keep reminding myself of this….and admit, that it’s hard to resist the pull of distraction. Much to continue thinking about! Love — Mary Lou

  5. nicole langis

    June 17, 2017

    Dear. Mary Lou

    Yet again this blog is so appropriate and a reminder that life passes by so fast and I need to get off the fast moving train of daily tasks to pause and take in the beauty and healing of quiet moments.

    Have a beautiful day and thank you for sharing. Love Nicole

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