Do you wonder if what keeps you busy distracts you from what really matters? As in, “what I want is this, so I’ll do that to see if it helps.”

Susan Lebel Young, a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, is the author of three books. Her latest is “Grandkids as Gurus: Lessons for Grownups.” Learn more at or email [email protected]

Sometimes I think rearranging things I can control on the outside will shift my inside world. Let’s say I want to be a better writer and person. So – bright idea – I decide to organize bookshelves. Maybe if I pull David Whyte’s “Essentials” from the left of the second shelf between the Mary Oliver and John O’Donohue collections, and I move David’s books next to John’s because they were friends. If I tidy up those books – spines standing now, maybe make short piles – then I’ll be in control. I’ll be a better writer, a better person, somehow.

I pick up Whyte’s “The Heart Aroused.” His other books tumble out of their neat tall-to-short order and crash onto the mound of books about creativity. Then the tsunami domino effect. My eyes dart to O’Donohue’s “To Bless the Space Between Us” and to Whyte’s “Consolations” and I see my plan of putting these two poet pals next to each other fail. They don’t fit together on the shelf.

I return to my initial thought that feng-shui-ing my bookshelf will make me a better writer and, oh yes, a better person. How is it that we cannot control the thoughts that appear? I see that I can control which, if and how many of these books I read or do not read. I can control how many of the writers’ generous prompts I use. Sadly, I realize how controlled I make myself and my study does not translate into “I’m a better writer and person.”

Now my bookshelf is a mess. David Whyte and John O’Donohue are nowhere near each other. Haphazard books hide the floor, some earmarked open here, others closed there. I can’t seem to control how much wisdom and skill I gain from all their well-written advice. I begin to wonder if becoming a better writer is not something I can control directly. Yes, I can control how much I practice writing. I can also control rewriting, editing, proofreading draft after draft. But the better person thing?

Confused by a spinning brain, I stare at my stack of dictionaries and synonym finders, all within reach, all mostly unused due to Microsoft Word’s thesaurus. Keep them? Move them? But wait, what’s this? They sit behind a mug with a Mary Oliver quote: “Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”

That’s it. Listen. We can control how we listen. We can control whether we breathe a little, or more deeply.

One might argue that I have too much time on my hands. It’s really about the swamped mind, too much thinking. I turn away from the chaos on the shelves and the tripping hazards on the carpet and gaze out the window. I breathe in today’s winter wonderland. Snow day. Huge accumulations on branches and bushes. White aglow everywhere. Nothing shifts an inner world like an outer magical world. Nothing rearranges our personhood like stopping the tripping over ourselves. Nothing organizes our thoughts like starting to breathe more than just a little into what really matters.

Comments are not available on this story.