a path through the overwhelm

by rebecca on April 1, 2011

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          There is so much open space where I live. I live in the belly of 360 degrees of Mother Earth’s mountains. Occasionally I see a house, but, mostly I see sky and trees, open fields covered in a blanket of snow and giant jutting hills reaching for the skyline. I love all this space, but occasionally I get lost.

          I get lost and I don’t know where to begin. I’ve had the same experience when I face my desk and there are a zillion sticky notes asking me to do something with my time. I’m lost because I can’t find the beginning.

          Making a choice is the critical thing. I have two sisters with beautiful gardens while I have a bountiful amount of bindweed. Both of them have told me at various times to find the beginning. It seems so simple. But with all this space around me, I had trouble knowing where the beginning was.

          “Just notice,” one sister advised. “Notice what you do. Notice where you look. That’s the beginning.” She was right. I noticed where we walked through the grass, making a muddy mess and that seemed like the beginning.

          “I’d like to build a brick path here, where we walk, instead of this muddy mess.” I said to my husband. He bought me all the right tools, warned me it would be hugely time-consuming, not to mention difficult and kissed me on my way.

          He was right. The bricks were exhausting, but finding my path amidst all this space was exhilarating beyond imagination. I was stunned by how much calm descended simply by allowing myself to place the next brick and the next.

          In my life I often fret over what is next. My sisters’ gardens are so lovely in August and September. There are things they do, even in January, however, to make that happen. They read flower books. They think about the birds they want to lure into their gardens. Their spaces seem so filled with them.

          For me, I had to find the beginning of my garden by noticing where I walk. Then I had to plant my feet there by placing bricks to make a path. Now that I’ve found my path, I’m ready for the next step. I wonder what that will be.

          Do you have a path you’re making or following? Is there something in your outdoor life that helps to calm an inner turmoil? I’d love to know about the altared spaces, paths or otherwise, you use to tame the large spaces that surround or overwhelm you.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon April 1, 2011 at 8:44 am

Hi Rebecca! thanks for stopping by! I’m reading and loving your blog. I’d have to say my garden out back is my altared space that helps me make the large a bit smaller. Funny about paths, I’ve always loved little paths…dirt, stone, brick. They seem very “secret garden” to me, like they might lead to somewhere, maybe a dream space, that you never would have thought of during normal life.


rebecca April 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm


Thank you for your visit. I have fond memories of reading The Secret Garden both myself and to my daughter. I’m totally with you in that the paths themself are dreamy and lead some where…a little quiet place or a place to keep a secret.


Margaret Reyes Dempsey April 1, 2011 at 6:04 pm

“Notice what you do. Notice where you look. That’s the beginning.” That is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. It can apply to so many areas of life. In fact, I think tonight I’m going to contemplate how it might apply to my in-progress novel. I’ve been stuck for a bit.


rachel April 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm

you really speak to me, rebecca. your blog has helped me to plant my feet, to identify and trust the path that i’ve always been making. kindredness is an astonishing and humbling gift. thank you for that.

and beautiful photographs. just beautiful. makes me want to leave the city…


Yvette Francino April 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I have a hard time with gardens, but I’m always happy at this time of year when my bulbs pop up showing me it’s spring and that they’ve survived, despite my negligent gardening.

I have overwhelming spaces in my closets, basement, file cabinets and — in my mind! I think the best bit of advice I read about this was from Anne Lamont’s book “Bird by bird.” It started with the story of how she was overwhelmed at having to write an essay about birds and didn’t know where to start and her father answered “bird by bird.” (Note: I don’t know if I’ve gotten all the facts right about this anecdote, but that’s how I remember it.) In other words… just one step at a time. It does help calm the mind to make progress, and some day that overwhelming task does get complete.


rebecca April 11, 2011 at 10:20 am


You are the second person to mention Anne Lamont to me this week. Perhaps it’s a sign to revisit her book…


SuziCate April 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm

What a comforting post this is. I need to find my beginning. I am going to take my first step by noticing where I walk. thank you.


Stacy Davis April 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm

It’s funny I should be reading this right now. My whole life is overwhelming most of the time, but my closet seemed to be a real thorn in my side. One of my daughters likes to hide out in there. She had the contents of my video camera bag spread out on the floor. Ontop of that, I had 3 stuffed animals that needed surgery and a little girls dress that needed mending. The closet is already very full, but these items made it impossible for me to walk in to get what I needed without feeling like I was going to break something. It drove me nuts for months. Then, just last night, I stitched up the toys and the dress and put away the camera bag contents. I shuffled some shoes around and now I can walk in the darn thing and get what I need with no worries. It was life changing. It freed up alot of things for me…magically.


rebecca April 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm


Amazing how a clean closet makes for a clean mind! So glad for the stuffies who are now in the surgical equivalent of the recovery room.


rebecca April 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm


Noticing is under-rated. It is over-looked. But it is by far the most profound thing I do. The nice thing for me is that while you’re noticing you’ll probably have a camera in hand and I’ll get to see your walk!


Stacy (Mama-Om) April 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Ah… what a beautiful path.

Thank you for sharing your process… I am still finding the path out of overwhelm… emotional overwhelm and physical overwhelm.

The emotional is a bit easier (but that’s because it has been my work for many years)… like earlier this week with my children, finding a deep center and sitting there, just centering down and letting the overwhelm swell and dissipate around me. Big enough.

The physical overwhelm — the chaotic house — is much harder. I literally just have to leave the room sometimes. But I can feel that getting closer, that I am getting closer to it, to myself amid it.



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