What does real life look like to you in your best moments, your quiet moments? What is it that you yourself actually want–down deep–and how much are you willing to give up to get it? What really gives you life? It’s time to consider what makes a thing life-giving and the point when even the life-giving becomes death-dealing for you.
Then it is time to define life differently, perhaps. It’s the moment to put down what it is we’re doing that can be done but does not really need to be done, at least not by us. We need to ask ourselves what it is that we really do not want to do so that everything else we do can be done with more energy, more quality, more inner peace. . .
. . . In the whirlwind of life, in the hurly-burly of things and people and work, we risk the loss of life itself. We risk the loss of focus. Suddenly, we one day realize, we don’t know what our lives are actually about anymore, except that they are about too much. We risk the loss of relationships. We get too busy, too scattered, to attend to the truly human intimacies we need if we are to stay in touch with what it means to be human. We risk the loss of balance. We risk the loss of direction. We risk the loss of what Hindu spirituality points ot most clearly and what the mystics of all traditions confront us with age after ag–total absorption in the Ultimate Mystery of life. . .
. . . (Reflection) is about the concentrated activity of being full human, of giving our gifts in ways that develop us rather than fragment us.
-from Welcome to the Wisdom of the World by Joan Chittister (p. 6-7) (emphases mine)
I was reading Chittister’s book a bit yesterday and this section really stood out for me. For all of my adult life I seem to be forever caught in an endless stream of creative ideas and projects that call out to me for attention. And yet, while all of these are very good things, to try and do them all leads me to the experience that what seems life-giving becomes death-dealing, as Chittister wisely says. Sometimes we need to close doors. Often we need to say no to the many very good things in favor of the best things. The paradox is that our freedom can come through self-imposed limitations.
Of course, the ancient mystics knew this. Monastic traditions wisely offer an array of practices to help narrow our focus so that in our relinquishment of some things we may discover the most important things of all.
Deepening my Sabbath practice has been a gift in so many ways. In that breathing space I am reminded of the delights of being and playing, I reclaim the things that bring me joy because I have the gift of space to really consider where I want to focus my energy. I discover the freedom that comes in being very intentional about what I say yes to and what I say no to. I am reminded again and again that writing and art-making are my heart’s passions and there are many distractions so they don’t end up as the day’s priorities. And that must change. Today.
Are there some seemingly life-giving things right now that you might be wiser to say no to? Are you involved with work that someone else could do just as well? Where is the call to freedom leading you right now?
-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts
(photo is of Freedom Monument in Riga Latvia, with a seagull standing on one of the stars)