“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
– an ancient proverb –
At the end of last week’s post, I nudged you to treat yourself to a grown-up Time-Out. I hope you got to ease back from your schedule at least once. A few years ago, if someone had suggested that I take a time out, I would have balked: “A time-out? How? When?”
Good questions. There’s work to be done, or shopping, or any of a thousand things clamoring for our attention. At one time, I was so busy with kids and commitments, I would dash home after teaching writing classes, run upstairs, toss down one bag, grab another, and rush back out to the car, hoping to make it to the next event on time. Even the daily Quiet Time that our church leaders encouraged us to observe became another line item on the daily To-Do list, and one I felt guilty about skipping. In reality, I was too busy for my own soul’s good. I learned that if I don’t control my time, it controls me.
But time is often too precious a god for busy people to ignore. At the core of busy-ness, a hidden heartbeat drums, What do I need? I must provide. What do I want? I must provide. I must provide. I must provide. Not only was the original concept of the Sabbath a grand Time-Out, but it was also a sign of trust in God as Provider. It’s amazing how hard it is to trust God to provide for what we might miss by taking a Time-Out. Yet it’s in the Time-Out, settling into the present moment, that we connect with the day, with our tasks, with each other, and with the Divine Mystery.
I realize that some of us would love to carve a moment or two out of a full schedule but truly believe we can’t. While it’s true that at times the road on our life journey is crowded with people and events making demands on our time, that’s all the more reason to make an effort to establish a habit of stillness. I’ve touched on the issue of pausing and finding stillness in previous blog posts, but it’s an important key to opening our spirits, to finding Eternity in the Now. So I’m picking up the thread again for a few minutes to look at it from the angle of time.
“We fail to notice because we’re busy keeping busy,” wrote Seth Godin. But we don’t have to take the grand all-day Sabbath Time-Out in order to notice the present and the eternal. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to slow down. With just a heads up, a breath in and a breath out, we can ease back from a frantic pace to a deliberate pace.
A time-out can be as brief as thirty seconds: pause, inhale, exhale, while using as many senses as we can to notice one specific object nearby, something to be grateful for – a leaf, a dandelion growing from a crack in the sidewalk, the texture of a brick, the flow of air from a fan, the scent of popcorn, the sound of one voice or a hundred voices, the marvel of a human hand. Capture the pleasure, the calmness, the gratitude of that specific moment, and then carry that calm into the rest of the day. Do this thirty seconds, once a day. Then make it twice a day. Then a dozen times a day. Then sixty seconds at a time. Then fill an entire coffee break noticing the gifts of the present moment and being grateful for them. “Attention is the beginning of devotion,” says poet Mary Oliver. Being present and noticing life can become a sacred, soul-enriching habit.
Ram Dass, a Hindu spiritual teacher, said, “Early in the journey you wonder how long the journey will take and whether you will make it in this lifetime. Later you will see that where you are going is HERE and you will arrive NOW . . . so you stop asking.” That’s a beautiful thought, and it’s true as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go past Now. I suspect that Ram Dass is trying to say that Now is all we have, and Here is the only place that the present moment encompasses or can even handle. He implies that if we ignore or overlook the Now, we’ve ignored and overlooked life itself, because life is lived moment by moment. That’s true. God is not accessed in a future that has not yet occurred, nor is God accessed in the past, where events have come and gone. The live connection is in this moment. In the Now. However . . .
NOW is always slipping into NEXT. If Time is like a book open to a double-page spread of Now, then we are always turning to the next blank page as we journey through life. Sometimes the journey feels purposeless; sometimes it feels purposeful. Sometimes it seems meaningless; sometimes it seems meaningful. Maybe that’s part of what developmental psychologist Erik Erikson meant about feeling either integrity or despair in older adulthood. We feel integrity if we sense that our lifeline has purpose and meaning; we feel despair if we don’t sense or see the meaning.
The existential question, “What is the meaning of life?” was asked so often in the 1960’s (often with awed voice and glazed eyes) that the question soon became a cliché and, of course, a staple of jokes:
“What is the meaning of life? All evidence to date suggests it’s chocolate.”
“What is the meaning of life? To find out if you have one before you have none.”
“Every time I find the meaning of life, they change it.”
And from cartoonist Mark Ishikawa: “The purpose in life is to find a purpose in life.”
But the question is a serious one: What, indeed, is the purpose of our time here? What gives life meaning? I’ve said before that I believe our whole purpose is to learn and practice love. If we dig a bit deeper, we find that practicing love involves both receiving and giving, both gratitude and generosity. Meaning and purpose begin, then, with discovering the gifts we’ve been given and cultivating them. Then we give of them graciously and generously, expecting nothing in return. Appreciated or unappreciated, we give.
But if we’re going to give generously, we have to continually refresh and refill ourselves; we have to continually nurture our gifts. Where do we find that nurture and refreshment? Sometimes from others who are living generously. Sometimes from nature. Sometimes from silence and stillness. And always by gravitating toward where we find love and grace and life. Because, as I’ve said before, where we find love and grace and life, we’ll find God. That’s the well where we receive, the well we draw on when we give.
It’s easy to advise “discover your gifts and cultivate them.” But how do we do that exactly? In the next post, I’ll be a bit more specific about the way I look at it.
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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy pexels.com.