Tuesday — This week, we’re talking about the Pause Button; slowing down to create and honor space for healing, replenishment, and spiritual hydration. Etty Hillesum’s reminder that, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty. To reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
And no, this is not easy when worry and urgency are the peer pressures of our world.
But (this is important), urgency is not just about speed. It’s about filling space (data overload, multitasking, public opinion, losing track of our heart), until we are bursting. And it takes a toll.
In a recent interview I was asked, “How do you respond to people who say they cannot afford to Pause?” I tell this story… An important and hurried and stressed businessman visits a Zen master, seeking guidance and inner peace.
The Zen master sits down, invites the businessman to sit for tea. “I’m not here for tea, I only want inner peace,” the businessman blusters.
Still, the master pours the visitor a cup of tea. But even after the tea fills the cup, the Zen master continues to pour, allowing the tea to spill, now running over the entire table.
The businessman is taken aback, “Hey! Stop! Please stop pouring the tea! Can’t you see the cup is full and obviously can’t hold any more.”
The Zen master replies simply, “Yes. So it is with you. And you will not be able to receive any guidance, or peace, unless you make some empty space first.”
But here’s the deal: When there is no empty space, we pay the price. We are full. Stuffed. Numb. Literally; numb.
When my senses are numbed by noise and overload and worry, I am impoverished. “Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity,” Thomas Merton wrote.
Bottom line, I become a man (in the words of Leonardo Da Vinci) who “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”
So, our spirit is like the teacup. Overflowing. And exacerbated by urgency. And all we wanted was guidance (advice). We just didn’t expect that it would involve making space. “You need me to let go of what?”
Easy? Seldom. Worth it? Every time.
Wednesday — Worry and urgency (and now a kind of exasperation) are the peer pressures of our world.
Which means that it is all too easy to live elsewhere and otherwise.
You know, “Is anyone home?”
Because urgency is not just about speed. It’s about filling space (data overload, multitasking, public opinion, losing track of our heart), until we are bursting. No wonder it takes a toll.
The Pause Button invites us to the present moment (the sacrament of the present moment)—whether that moment is confusing, messy, uncertain or needing some minor repair, this present moment (the ordinary) is the hiding place for the holy.
Which reminds me of a wonderful trip. Many years ago, a visit to Victoria, BC (Vancouver Island), spending one afternoon camped out in Munro’s bookstore.
Find the bookstore in most towns, you may find me there. I do relish looking for odd and obscure books. And on that day, I found a title that gave me pause. “What if I wake up and discover I’m living the wrong life?”
Well, this is a good way to throw a monkey wrench into a fine vacation. I mean, should I cancel dinner reservations?
Sensing the author could be right, this led to an uncomfortable scene in the bookstore with me on the floor, being consoled by a minimum-wage-store-clerk, who may or may not be living the right life, which seemed beyond my capacity to discern, although she was very helpful nonetheless, patting me on the head saying, “There, there,” and gave me the name of a nearby pub which specialized in soothing middle-aged angst.
But what if? What if I’m living the wrong life? Oh my…
This seems a riddle for someone with way too much time on their hands, and the question gnawed at me over the weekend. On the first morning home on Vashon after that trip, I started my day, as I begin my day every day:
Make a pot of coffee.
Journal for a half hour.
Walk the garden as my morning invocation, periodically checking for raccoon damage.
Sit by the stream to see if any of our polliwogs had blossomed into adolescence.
I intended to write about what the “right life” looks life, but was preoccupied for a good deal of time by the way the morning dew weighted the new blossoms on the rose Winchester Cathedral.
The lawn is an Irish green and the Rudbeckias (Black-eyed Susan) lean (or is it bow? In deference? In reverence?) from the heaviness of the evening rain.
I was, truly, mesmerized.
And gratefully, I reentered my life. This life.
It seemed that the nagging question, “What if this is the wrong life?” is not that important after all.
Have I done bone-headed things with my life? To be sure.
Have I miscalculated and misused talent or opportunity? Most likely.
Does it benefit me to wish that I were elsewhere and otherwise? I don’t think so.
Tonight with dinner, fresh picked corn on the cob from my friend Phil Volker. Grateful Phil.
Savor your day. My friends.
Thursday — Today I spent the afternoon with the good people at Holy Family Catholic School Division in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada. I was on video, as has been our custom over these months, but a treat, nonetheless.
Anyone doing education or health care, you have my vote and my support. And I want to do what I can to help you stayed refueled.
What did we talk about? The Pause Button… inviting us to the present moment (the sacrament of the present moment)—whether that moment is confusing, messy, uncertain or needing some minor repair. Yes, because this present moment (the ordinary) is the hiding place for the holy.
Dewitt Jones tells a story about visiting Marion Campbell, considered the finest weaver in all of Scotland. She lived in the Outer Hebrides. Jones visited to photograph Marion for The National Geographic. When she answered the door she seemed surprised (no wonder considering that the Hebrides are a remote island chain, the whole string of 65 islands with fewer than 27,000 inhabitants. I expect she didn’t see a stranger very often.) Marion told Dewitt, “I’m sorry, but now I am taking care of my brother who is sick and near death.” Dewitt felt an understandable embarrassment.
“No wait,” she told him, “give me an hour. I’ll join you then.”
After the hour, he found her at the loom. She talked about her creations, and stories about scraping lichen from rocks for dye. Dewitt took a few photos. Still nervous that he had interrupted Marion, he started to leave. “Oh no,” she told him. She escorted him into her dining room where she had put out biscuits and tea. Dewitt wondered if he was in the presence of a great sage, and waited for pearls of wisdom. “What do you think about when you weave?” he asked.
“I wonder if I’ll run out of thread,” she answered.
She must have seen the puzzlement on his face, and added, “When I weave, I weave.”
There it is.
When I read I read.
When I celebrate I celebrate.
When I pay attention I pay attention.
Friday — Urgency and worry reinforce “if only” and “when”. The nagging sense that this moment, is not enough.
Preoccupation about living the “right life” (the “if only” and “when” and “real” life) is the “Daniel-san syndrome.”
In the words of Per Petterson (Out Stealing Horses), “I sailed there to be a different person than the one I was before.”
Remember Karate Kid? Daniel was enamored with Miyagi’s skill and prowess and power. That’s what he wanted. What he needed to change his life. To make it better. Different. Right. In one scene he asks Miyagi about his Karate “belt.”
Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98; You like?
Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant.
Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.
Miyagi: [laughs; then, seriously] Daniel-san,
Miyagi: [he taps his head] Karate here.
Miyagi: [he taps his heart] Karate here.
Miyagi: [points to his belt] Karate never here. Understand?
Yes. And here’s the deal: The Pause Button helps us let go of asking the wrong questions. The permission to see sufficiency and enoughness in this moment.
Our Jewish brothers and sisters use a prayer beginning, Barukh Adonai, Blessing God, or seeing God in all things, in all places. It is a way of slowing down (the Pause Button).
So, wherever you are, just sit still. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Light a candle. Carry a talisman (a stone or some object from a place) that reminds you of a sacred space. Say the rosary. Watch the birds dance at the feeders. Listen to their chatter. Walk in a park, or around the block. Read a book. Write a poem (even a bad poem will do). Name the colors in the sunset. Spend an afternoon in your special chair or hammock. Count clouds. Give them names. Enjoy your dog (today was National Dog Day). Savor your day.
In simple ways, we create and honor space for healing, replenishment, and spiritual hydration. Etty Hillesum’s reminder that, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty. To reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
Here’s our Prayer Blessing…
A Prayer to the Creator
Lord, Father of our human family, you created all human beings equal in dignity: pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter, dialogue, justice and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies and a more dignified world, a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.
May our hearts be open to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty that you have sown in each of us, and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects and shared dreams.