The Picnic + The Ants

I keep waiting for my gap year to begin.

It’s been two months since school ended and two weeks since I officially finished my job as Director of University Counseling.

During the summer vacation we flew to Canada, took all of our things out of a storage unit in Ottawa, moved them to my parents’ home, sorted them and decided what we were keeping, loaded this stuff back on a 16-foot truck that Damien drove across four provinces from Ontario to Nova Scotia where two very generous friends helped us unload the truck. We unpacked some (but not all) of our things. Damien assembled two sofas, our dining room table, and two of what are quite possibly the heaviest bookshelves ever constructed. We placed our dishes in a drawer rather than a shelf which felt like a revelation after decades of reaching over my head for plates and bowls. We hosted my parents for a week ~ showing them the South Shore of Nova Scotia. In mid-July, I went to Paris for a glorious week… three days on my own and then a retreat with other life coaches in the city of twinkling lights. For a few days we hosted a dear friend from our time in Barcelona. At the end of our time in Canada, we had two weeks on our own in Casa Limon.

I had this idea of how the summer would be: Fun. An adventure. Romantic. The summer-images I assembled in my mind felt just like the promise of the Ikea catalogue that arrived in my mailbox each year when I was a university student. All those perfect rooms… just waiting for me to inhabit them. This was the way I thought about each of the weeks of our summer; I imagined them as perfect rooms of time.

This is not the first time my expectations have kicked my ass.

It’s not that the summer wasn’t fun/adventurous/romantic. It was those things… at times. In little bits, in flashes, in moments when Damien and I would look out at the Lunenburg Harbour from The Fish Shack where we’d ordered fish and chip and iced tea and then we’d look back at each other and that look would contain the thought, “We’re so lucky to live here for part of the year.” And in those moments, it was eternal summer and everything yucky fell away. But there was also this pile of hard, frustrating and not very romantic moments. We had no hot water for several days. The guest bed did not arrive when expected and when it did, we couldn’t get the box springs up the stairs. We wanted to throw a party for our neighbours but we ran out of time and steam. It took many visits to banks in both Japan and Nova Scotia and two actual transactions to successfully send a transfer of funds to the USA. We didn’t spend as much time by the sea as we’d hoped. We spent way more money than we’d planned. I didn’t write a single Sunday Reader.

I’m not complaining about my life; I’m very clear about how fortunate we are. But I was surprised to find that our summer wasn’t perfect.

It never has been and it’s never going to be.

I realize that my feeling of waiting for my gap year to begin comes from the exact same crazy place as my desire for a perfect summer.

Once I heard a Buddhist teacher tell a story about a picnic. He encouraged listeners to imagine ourselves going on a picnic. We were asked to imagine that we had a delicious lunch packed away in a basket, the sky was blue and filled with white fluffy clouds, and the temperature was not too hot and not too cold as we set out our food on a red and white gingham cloth. The fried chicken was delicious and the lemonade was the perfect combination of sweet and tart. But then we noticed a procession of ants on the gingham cloth and our first thought was, “These damned ants are ruining my picnic.”

The storyteller then suggested another interpretation… that the ants are the picnic.

The picnic doesn’t exist in spite of the ants. The ants are as much a part of the picnic as the blue sky and the crispy fried chicken.

My hopes for, and understanding of, our summer had been way too limited.

The broken element in our water heater was the summer. The guest bed that arrived in pieces and cost more than we’d budgeted for was the summer. The jet lag and the packing and the unpacking ~ yup… they were all the summer. Also summer: the gloriously cool weather in Nova Scotia, the fog that crept in to the shore the day we took my parents to Green Bay Beach, ice cream cones, hugs, Chef’s Table on Netflix and great visits with new and long-time friends. Daisies cut from our own ramshackle garden, movies in Bridgewater, a pair of black leather sofas that feel like home, raspberry iced tea in blue rimmed glasses from Mexico, afternoon naps, the way the sun slipped through the blinds at twilight and filled the living room with golden light, driving with the sunroof open as the bass of the Hamilton Mixed Tape thrummed through the car. All summer.

When I opened my mind to accept the more challenging aspects of the summer as part of our picnic, a surprising thing occurred. Not only was I able to feel more peaceful about the rough bits but I found that my heart opened up WIDE to ALL of the beauty the summer held. I was able to see our entire summer with greater clarity and peace. Our summer was awesome.

News flash: Conditions will never be perfect.
Buddhist wisdom: It’s all part of the picnic.
Monna-move: Let’s get this gap year party started.

Yesterday, when Damien headed up the hill to start his seventh year at our little school in Japan, I didn’t go with him. I made a list of emails to send, blog posts and Sunday Readers to write, and people to help. And I began. And it wasn’t perfect because it was never going to be.

But it was a start and that was kind of beautiful.

What’s been stopping you from enjoying your picnic?


Perhaps there’s something in your life that you’d like more of (or less of) but you can’t figure out how to make that happen. You have a sense that you should be happier but you don’t know where to start.

If you’d like some help with your journey, I have openings for four coaching clients.

Here’s what a couple of clients said about our work together:

I’d never participated in life coaching before, so admittedly I was a bit skeptical if it would be helpful. Thankfully, I gave it a shot because working with Monna over the course of a few months was really beneficial for me. I found Monna to be warm and patient and genuine, and I actually looked forward to diving in and discussing things that have not always been the easiest for me. What I found the most helpful was that she always found a way to turn a negative statement into a positive one, flip a bad experience into something I could learn from and present my self-doubt as a building block for much needed self-care. I’m truly grateful to Monna for this experience.” ~ M. in Montreal

Monna is the Marie Kondo of the mind. She has helped me declutter my mind, throwing out unhelpful ideas and those which were none of my business. She’s guided me through setting a plan which will help me find my North Star. Thank you Monna, I’m on my way.” ~ L. in Melbourne

We’ll start by working together for six sessions over six or twelve weeks. You’ll choose what works best for you.

If you are interested, or even curious, email me at I’ll happily answer your questions and we can even hop on the phone and have a 30 minute chat to help you decide.

Please share this information with a friend who might benefit from working with a coach.


This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these notes directly in your inbox twice a month, you can subscribe here.

One comment

  1. Monna, Summer will turn to fall and it will not be perfect, but the colors will be glorious.Life will be good, and as you well know, what you make of it. Remember there is a room for you here in Saratoga.

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