Fireflies: what I learned by watching my thoughts worry by

I was sitting in the car, waiting for my daughter, a film student, to shoot some footage of a rainy carnival, which had appeared, as carnivals will, in the parking lot of our local mall.

And there, as Katie pointed her camera at an empty ferris wheel, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: my mind is filled  – FILLED – with absurd and random fears and concerns.

Since I have so often said, “I don’t worry,” this caught me by surprise. Apparently, I do. But in a sneaky, worrying-when-I-am-not-paying-attention sort of way. As if a swarm of lightning bugs had been fluttering around my head in the dark and suddenly, in that moment of quiet reflection, they’d all started to glow!

What the …?

I grabbed my journal and began writing. I didn’t know why this was happening just then – and I didn’t care. I was having a conversation with a part of myself I rarely saw (or allowed myself to see) and, fully engaged, I was listening.

Here is what I caught in my ‘firefly jar’:

  1. I was worrying that I will not have time time/money/energy to use my life at its fullest potential and that I will die unfulfilled and unfinished
  2. I was worrying that even if I try, these projects I’m working on will turn out to have been fruitless, pointless, misguided and wrong
  3. I was worrying that it’s too late. that I should have perfected my body, face, mind, home, wardrobe, website, credentials/education, brand/message, diet by now.
  4. I was worrying that I should know the exact combination of Superfoods, Smoothies and Supplements to guarantee immortality, glowing vitality and endless energy.
  5. I was (also, weirdly) worrying that my daughter will be kidnapped and sold into the sex trafficking trade
  6. I was worrying that my son would die and leave me with a hole in my heart that nothing will ever be able to fill
  7. I was worrying that my husband would suddenly stop loving me just when I’ve finally figured out how to let myself love him
  8. and that I would die, slowly and painfully, of grief.


I sat in the car, listening – respectfully, honestly –  to my own thoughts, capturing each lighting bug of worry as it flickered up and then faded back into shadow. And as I watched, I began to see patterns and all of a sudden, in my mind’s eye, a word equation formed:

all of this worrying, all of this fantasy and future-tripping about what I could be/should be doing if only I had more time/money/authority/freedom takes me out of the present moment;

and if…
the present moment is the ONLY moment in which ANYTHING can happen.

I am not present AND none of it can happen.

I had glimpsed this truth before. I’d even taught it to other people. And yet, it wasn’t that rainy day at the carnival that I’d understood it –  thoroughly, hauntingly.

For more than 50 years, I’ve been missing in action. 

It was like being punched in the stomach.

And I sat there, watching a freaky slide-show of myself:
not doing my best in high school (because who’d notice?)
quitting college in my last semester (because who’d care?)
all the starting and stopping,
and the jobs I did at half-effort while I waited to be discovered – or caught.

I was half alive; half awake –  I wasn’t making any choices. I wasn’t adding or creating anything to the world. All I had to work with was whatever floated by – or was thrown at me – and all I could do with that was react to it. 

That day in the car, watching an empty ferris wheel spin in the rain, I saw the truth: Life wasn’t coming for me. There was no secret opportunity vortex waiting for me to find it. It was right here. 

And all this time, while I was wishing I could write but not lifting the pen; wishing to be rich but spending my money so fast that it didn’t have a chance to compound, wishing I could love but instead of simply loving, I was waiting for the people and conditions around me to change so that I could.

After all, I didn’t want to get trapped into loving the wrong person, living a life I didn’t want, writing the wrong book, moving so fast that I hurt myself? I didn’t want to, gasp, make a mistake?

  • I hadn’t been visualizing, I’d been hesitating.
  • I wasn’t waiting for the right moment, I was terrified.
  • I wasn’t trapped: I was free.

And suddenly, miraculously, as if a pair of gorgeous white wings had been strapped to my shoulders, I woke up. And I saw the message that had always been there – everywhere – plastered all over the walls of the world: 

  1. You can bring your best self to the party, the project, the kitchen table – and not just when people are looking or being nice to you or paying you. You can bring your best self everywhere.
  2. You can bring her because you want to, because YOU NEED TO. Because she is who you are.
  3. You can do it right now. You don’t have to wait til you’re ready. Til you’re not scared. Bring her. Now.
  4. Be prepared to bring her. Keep the tank full. Have the map handy. You never know when opportunity will arrive.
  5. Don’t miss the boat (and having a bag packed makes it a lot easier to step onto the boat.)
  6. If you miss the boat, charter another one. Or build one.

And also, there is no boat – you’re the boat. Step onto the deck of yourself and sail.

I’ve been here ever since – awake, aware. And, oh man, is it hard. Every day, I feel myself being tempted back to sleep, back to forgetting. But once you know something, you never un-know it. And those lightning bugs, they’ve been glowing in my consciousness ever since.

From then on.
I am here. This is it. Now. 


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Showing 30 comments
  • emelie

    “…all the jobs I did at half-effort while I waited to be discovered – or caught…”
    oh how that speaks to me (as I sit here devouring blog posts, dreaming about my LEAP, and avoiding doing all but the bare minimum to squeak by at my day job)… even though my bare minimum looks like someone else’s rock star performance, i KNOW i’m not doing my best. instead, i’m waiting, holding out, saving my best performance for my own endeavors, which i’ll get to… tomorrow.
    the fireflies are escaping.

    • Amy

      I’m learning this lesson every day as I curb my wandering attention – always and again, back and back and back to the present moment. I keep asking, since this wake up call, “Am I fully present in THIS moment?” and so often, the answer is: Oh, wait – THIS moment, too! A constant practice of mindfulness. And very powerful. Thank you for illuminating your own.

  • Shawna Cevraini

    Wow, this is amazing! I am moved beyond words at the moment. I want to share this with everyone I know because it is such an important message. To you, to me, to them.

    Thank you!

    • Amy

      Thanks Shawna. I hope that you WILL share it. Please. I’m very touched by your response.

  • Stacey

    Thank you so much for this lovely, personal post – especially for sharing even more from your experience in the comments.

    Last week I celebrated my 13th wedding anniversary. We’ve actually been together for 18 years.

    Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my relationship with my husband. Many of the questions stem from the fact that my work as a nurse-midwife has always paid the bills for my family and it’s simply less conventional for the woman in a relationship to be “the provider.”

    Unfortunately, early in our relationship, I found myself judging my husband for not making money and said demeaning things to him.

    Fortunately, I knew that this was not the way I wanted to treat my husband, nor the way I wanted to be in the world. I sought counseling, and I’ll never forget my counselor saying, “You love your husband. You have a great relationship. But you want to leave him because he’s not a provider?”

    At that moment I realized that my husband has always supported me in every way except financially. And what I’ve learned since then is that the thing you want most from your partner—or anyone in your life (although this is a tall order for a mate, let alone a stranger)—is that they see you and value you for exactly who you are. The support I want from my husband is his unfailing belief in me.

    I recently resigned from my staff position at the hospital—the source of the steady income and benefits my family depends on—and my husband and I are having LOTS of interesting discussions about what we’re willing to do to support our family. And we’ve never felt closer. We have faith (and a lot of Plan B’s) that it will work out.

    You line about not wanting to go to sleep reminded me of the Rumi poem. You probably know it, but I’ll include it here, just in case.

    Rumi: don’t go back to sleep

    The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
    Don’t go back to sleep.
    You must ask for what you really want.
    Don’t go back to sleep.
    People are going back and forth across the doorsill
    where the two worlds touch.
    The door is round and open.
    Don’t go back to sleep.

    Thanks you again, Amy, for this lovely post.

    • Amy

      Stacey – Thank you for this gorgeous and thoughtful comment. This is a very similar story to mine – only my husband made money – not tons, but plenty enough. He just wasn’t that good at managing it… and neither was I. We are learning together now that I’ve stopped blaming him for my unhappiness – and he has stopped feeling constantly on the defensive. It’s a sacred but challenging journey. But, after 35 years together, I can say now, worth every moment of struggle. Love like this… is real love. And not for sissies. 🙂

      • Stacey

        Yes! Reminds me of the Bette Davis quote. “Old age is not for sissies.” Seems true for anything worth anything at all.

  • Anna

    Thank you Amy, what an insightful post. I guess this happens to all of us… 🙂 It’s very nice to read something that actually shakes you awake. Good luck!

  • jo miller

    I love you Amy Oscar. Your writing takes me right to where I need to go. thank you for inspiring us to keep the faith ~ to believe.
    Rather cool -bit of a challenging time now,observation,not a complaint. Feeling lost,stuck,getting caught in old tricks-ya know the way of learning. Your beautiful book arrived, like a miracle, yesterday. I wept. then I read , and read. Reminders, new perspectives,feelings of peace & Grace…Hope.
    today, of course I’m a little more open & ready to receive and Ta Da I am given the gift of this post. Sweet serendipity – Dang, here are those tears again. helping to cleanse,renew & transform.
    I must also offer gratitude for how Twitter has provided love,light,insight,support & more. This is no accident that these beautiful souls are connecting offering blessings.
    thank you & Congratulations! xo jo

    • Amy

      I love you too Jo Miller. Amazing, isn’t it, how we can love someone we’ve never met? Powerful stuff, this awareness, this interconnectivity business we are playing with. Huge.

  • Christine Harris

    Thank you, thank you. Just call me everyday to remind me that it is now and now and now. You go girl!

    • Amy

      I will call you if you will call me. Do we have a deal? 🙂

  • Susan T. Blake

    Wow. Wow! You have real-ized some very important stuff. And you’re right, it’s not too late.

  • Jennifer

    WOW! I have found someone that feels or has felt the way that I do, or have felt. Most days I feel like I’m still waiting for my slap in the face, but I’m doing MY BEST every day and hanging in there. I love the firefly metaphor….perfect! I know my silver lining is out there and we will find each other.


  • Bridget

    I’m so in love with you and this post, and it resonates so strongly with me. Being here in this moment and this moment and this moment is not easy, especially for sensitives.
    Especially for those who are intuitive.
    There is only now has been really helpful to me too. It takes the sting out.

  • Julie Daley

    beautiful, Amy. beautiful.
    i love the images of the fireflies.
    it’s amazing what happened for me when i discovered there is no time. there is only now. all the stuff in the head is just that. it’s happening in a past, or a future, that does not exist. None of it is real. Pretty amazing stuff. You’ve captured it so brilliantly here. You’ve come home.

  • Lori Paquette

    thank you for this. I’ve been seeing fireflies in dreams since August. Perhaps it is now time for me to share what I saw. I shared a bit on Twitter yesterday thanks to an inspiring #soulchat

    • Amy

      🙂 Yay.

  • SusanJ

    Amy, it’s glorious just to taste a little of the powerful juju in your realization through this post. I have to keep stopping to breathe it because I can feel that it’s beyond my mind.

    I was so interested to read your last reply about your husband’s income, because on Good Friday morning, my husband and I were having the exact same discussion about his income and my business and right in the middle of it he had a deep remembrance of why he’s here that put everything else into sharp perspective. (I just published the post on that today.)

    We’re moving forward as a team in a whole new way now and we just KNOW that as long as we help each other remember this deeper truth and make our choices in this new light, that things will flow more easily. There’s clearly something here to be relied upon.

    Thank you for walking this and for your “reports from the field”! = >

    • Amy

      So remarkable, isn’t it? This week, with less money than we have ever had, I feel closer to my husband than I’ve ever been. Paradoxes of love. PS Thank you so much for this comment. Powerful.

  • Alexandra

    My God, that was wonderful and good shaking.

    So glad you have the support net to allow you to take risks.

    It’s harder when you’re the one responsible for your family.

    • Amy

      So interesting that you end on that thought. Because until this month, I DID have the safety net. And maybe I should have written about THAT in this post, as well. Because I think it’s been the single factor that pushed my face up to that wall/mirror. My husband completely lost his income this year. It started as a trickle down from the ‘economy’ which slowed and slowed and slowed his home architecture practice down. But this month, ah this month, it is absolutely silent. And he is having to deal with that… and the bills are piling up. And we have absolutely no cash reserves. None. That means that we are completely relying on faith – and my freelance paycheck. So, yes, it is easier when there’s a safety net and yet… for me… that safety net has been another trap, another way of avoiding making my leap. Having to rely on my income has made me tool up FAST and get working on projects that have lingered for YEARS on my hard drive. They’ll be spilling out some time this coming month, a growing list of experiments with making money.

      • Stacey

        I’m very intrigued by your reply, Amy, because I’m seeing an intense amount of creative activity from my husband right now.

        You see, now that I’ve quit my hospital job, one of my plans (we’ll call it Plan Z) is to rent our home and live off the rental income in Guatemala. My husband is less-than-excited about this plan, and avoiding that outcome seems to be fueling his endeavors like never before.

        It makes me wonder that perhaps the “safety net” I provided might have had the inadvertent consequence of keeping him tied down. Wouldn’t it be lovely, if without it, he soared?

        • Amy

          Lovely indeed. 😉

  • Kelly

    Yes. I think I came to a very similar revelation sometime last year, quite be accident as well, (or perhaps it was not an accident?). And I was there for a while, but this past winter I slipped back. For a few months I have been clawing my way back up out of the hole and I think I am almost there. And I think you may have just given me the one final boost that I needed. I thank you for that.

    • Amy

      Yay! 🙂

  • Andrea Maurer

    I’m out of complimentary descriptors for your writing, Amy. This post makes me wish I’d have saved all of my compliments to use right now. Seriously. It’s beautiful and so spot on. Love, love, love it. Thank you.

  • Kirsten

    So, so true. I also have a tendency to wait for the perfect conditions, then the realization that there isn’t a more perfect moment than now. Forgetting and remembering, over and over and over. Thank you for this reflection, it was another reminder of what is really important.

    • Amy

      Yes, forgetting and remembering it all day. It’s the remembering part I’m working on right now – shoring that up. I was really good at the forgetting… 🙂

  • Square-Peg Karen

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and YES! Que the Hallelujah choir – ohmyword. This is beautiful!

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