The True Substance of Our Lives

Dear Friends,

This morning after my spouse and kids left in a flurry of bags, jackets, and hurried kisses, I left the dishes on the counter and sunk back into my chair at the breakfast table. Promising myself a few minutes of meditation before jumping into my own day, I poured myself a cup of luke-warm tea. Then, before I fully knew what I was doing, I reached for my phone. Four minutes later, I realized that my quiet time had been filled with work emails and instructional texts to my kids about after-school activities. The essential task – spending five minutes in intentional silence – had been sacrificed for a whole load of frenetic to-do’s. 

I imagine many of you can easily relate to this scenario. With so much clamoring for our attention, it is almost impossible not to lose sight of what is truly important.    

In my work in spiritual formation at an Episcopal church, I am privileged to spend many hours with folks in the second half of their lives. Unlike many of the elders I knew when I was younger, who tended to veil their vulnerability in the language of triumphant salvation or sugarcoat their struggles in a wash of sparkling sentiment, these elders are not afraid to talk openly and without judgment of a lifetime of twists and turns, sorrows and joys.Their lives are still a work in process, a testimony to the idea that one lifetime is not long enough to whittle down love, faith, and the art of seeing, to a perfect point.

I’ve learned so much from watching these folks in their 70s, 80s, and 90s sift through their lives.  They are actively paring back, letting go of many of the things they once counted vital to success and survival. Franciscan friar Richard Rohr writes, “All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not.” This work of spiritual decluttering is what so many of the elders in my community are actively leaning into. And it’s not easy work. This open-hearted re-ordering requires humility, honesty, imagination and faith. When we’ve done the work of stripping away all the nonessential layers that feel so important and pressing, Rohr says we’ll ultimately find that “the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. . . .that place is called freedom.”

More than enough. All that you need. Freedom. These things feel far away this morning. At work, half-finished tasks seem to slap my face for attention. At home, the house, the dog, the girls, all need my loving presence to thrive. What about my own health and appointments I need to schedule? And did I mention that my oldest daughter is off to a college interview this afternoon?  What my elders teach me about this moment is that while the one hundred things commanding my attention this morning are fine in themselves, I should not mistake them for the true substance of my life. That true substance lies underneath all the busyness and urgent tasks that populate my mind and calendar. Far more intrinsic and essential is my identity as a child of God, a listener to the still, small voice that tells me what is deeply true about today. And what is deeply true is this: We are loved, and no matter what we check off our list by the end of the day, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

Peace,

Kim

P.S. I am indebted to a virtual “cloud of saints” for these ideas; this month, I’ve been sitting at the virtual feet of Richard Rohr and Parker Palmer.  Of course, so many writers and poets address these ideas–who are your favorites?  Please leave a message and share them with us!

Consider: Reclaiming Our Attention

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, my husband and I took a walk through a beautiful fall afternoon. Our dog nosed at animal trails and loped through a stand of golden aspens. The afternoon, in all respects, was gorgeous, the sort of full-color fall afternoon you know will soon be memory. My husband looked up. “Do you know what the weather is going to be tomorrow?”aspens

I stopped in the middle of the trail and automatically reached toward my phone. Some part of my mind halted. “Don’t do it!” I said to myself. I pulled an empty hand back and picked a spear of grass instead, twirling it between my fingers. “No idea,” I answered my husband, “we can look when we get back.”    

Sustained attention, we all know, is under assault. I recently listened to an interview about “the arms race for human attention” with former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris. This interview was darkly illuminating about the persuasive psychology upon which internet content and smartphone applications are built. Far from neutral, the technology which frames our lives is engineered to maximize habit-formation and addiction. I feel moderately aware that my attention is being hijacked, and yet I still tune in to the ever-ready supply of constantly refreshed newsfeed, headlines, and emails.

We each have an inner garden to cultivate. Our hearts and minds, our brain space, our attention, are ours to tend. This work is our birthright. And everyday, I sell some portion of this birthright for meager return. Today I sold it for one trip to Facebook, nine or ten worthless checks on my email, and several swipes on national headlines.

I want my attention back. I want my inner garden to be rich with rare and exotic flowers cultivated over years of patience, effort, and considered attention. In this era where statistics show the average attention span has dropped below that of the common goldfish, I can’t assume that reclaiming my attention will come easily. Literally billions of dollars are arrayed against it.

Recently I came across this quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains… But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul…Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself.”

As I read this quote, something stirred inside. My modern mind feels abuzz with lists and worries, with reminders and to-dos. It couldn’t feel further from Aurelius’ trouble-free retreat. Yet it is within my power to retire into my own soul, to journey deep into that wilderness. Though billions of dollars clamor otherwise, each and every moment, the choice to make such a journey is mine.

Peace,

Lindsay

P.S.  What is your answer for leaving the constant buzz and “retiring into your soul?”  We really want to know!  Leave a comment here or (ironically) on EHH’s Facebook page, or send us a message.