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What brings freedom?

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)

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10 Responses

  1. Wow, what great responses to this post!

    blisschick, I love hearing about the synchronicities, reminds me of something potent at work. :-)

    Kel, yes sometimes we just have to get the things done we don’t really want to do in service of something greater, more beautiful. Blessings on your space.

    Tess, you bring up another great distraction, those little things that keep up from our bigger work. I can get very caught up in email stuff and web surfing when I am investigating an idea. I chalk it up to creative exploration but I can let hours go by in the research stage.

    Thanks Sue, I think your comment about season of life is very apt. I find that a freeing concept to commit to something for a season.

    Thanks for chiming in Rebecca, yes what we risk if we don’t close the door is a good way of rephrasing that idea.

    Lizabeth, so true! Our modern lives are on information overload. We have more opportunities than ever, which in some ways is marvelous but in many ways is simply overwhelming and paralyzing.

    SS, congratulations on extending yourself creatively like this and being so well-received! I think your volunteer projects fall under that idea of seasons Sue mentioned, that this is a season to close that door and open a new one.

    Owen, you speak to the many tough choices this involves. Others may have many judgments about what our own most important work is, and while that may help the discernment, it can hinder it too. Blessings on the time ahead.

    CM, simplifying is another important dimension to this conversation. We can invest a lot of energy in maintaining things. A lovely image of freeing your art materials so someone else may thrive with them.

  2. I’ve been closing the door on possessing a lot of things or having to buy. This last weekend I sorted out my books and boxed up six boxes of them to be sold to a book buyer. Previous weekends were spent sorting through sewing material and household cupboards. We are giving away, storing things away for a garage sale or recycling. Some of my knickknacks will be put away to give my home a less cluttered look. Doing this I feel I have focused on what I really want to have and really want to do. Having all those art materials I thought I would enjoy only made me feel guilty for not taking the time to use them. Now they will be used by someone instead of sitting in a drawer! And I feel so free not having a lot of stuff to take care of and I don’t have to feel guilty about not using it.

  3. Good thoughts. I just did this and am doing more of it, saying no so that what is needful will happen. A small thing but I closed out a writing space that, along with the sphere it was a part of, were possessing my time, me period. I said, I’m done. When some people, people I care about said not too I did because it was needful. Now my only public online presence is that which actually serves the creative process for me. I also removed untild rss feeds and I have turned down an paid opportunity in our parish – though I have accepted another. All of last year consumed me as I worked hard to enter a career that would provide handily for my family, or for which there was such a potential, but it robbed my soul and failed to fill my spirit. I was even semi successful bit I quit it to follow our Lord and the desire of my heart. It’s slow but I think this time might just be the time.

    Well, one never knows what one will say on someone elses blog space. Peace be with you in all your endeavours for Christ. ::thrive! O

  4. I’ve found in the last almost 9 months of this year that I find a great deal of joy and life giving energy in pursuing my own creative art projects. For years, I’ve told myself “why I should be” creating work, but also lots of time explaining to myself “why I probably am kidding myself that there is a creative part of me at all.” After much work on positive reinforcement (really years more than months), I’ve actually created art accepted in 3 regional juried art shows – no one is more surprised by this development than I and no one is more thrilled than I and more positively inspired by this success! In direct reference to your last paragrah about “Freedom” ……In addition to actively pursuing my creative artwork, I’ve made a big decision to cut back on a volunteer project that has taken a lot of energy from my life… has benefited my well-being for quite a long time but I’ve made the decision to let it go as the activity has begun to affect my health and energy level. It’s hard letting go of something that is not the same as “it used to be” or as life giving as it should be…

  5. I was just thinking yesterday about the idea of “freedom within commitment” (I feel like that exact phrase comes from T.S. Eliot but I can’t remember), mainly in terms of marriage but what you write is so relevent to the pace of our modern day lives and it’s been helpful to me as i am today (something like stuck in overload, that crazy current overwhelming me). Many thanks!

  6. Oh my, I’m so all about this lately. That last paragraph really hit me that talks about what we risk losing if we don’t learn to close the door, or leave it closed should it have shut on us. I’ll give this some more thought….

  7. Oh, I can so relate to this! I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, thinking about how difficult it is to do this!

    I realised with a shock the other day that I have laid down thoughts of writing fiction and may never pick it up again. I realised that I prefer to focus on writing poetry rather than fiction … well, maybe not prefer, but it fits me better at this season in my life. It was definitely a bit of a shock but it makes sense. I do hope it is something I pick up again sometime in the future though :)

    Great thoughts.

  8. For me, a lot of the things that take up time are not so much in the “can be done but does not really need to be done, at least by us” category. They are in the category of procrastination and frittering time away. By playing computer games, for example (hangs head in embarrassment…). I’m currently exploring why I do this, because sometimes it’s a way of putting of what I actually want to do.

  9. yes, I am currently painting my house and I think it would be wiser to hire a professional :)

    the call to freedom is to finish painting the house, cos then we’re one step closer to completing the Anamrae homestead, and one step closer to hosting people here, to help them discover their own “freedom”

  10. Christine, I’ve been thinking about this A LOT lately. And I am learning that the things I need to “close the door” on are those things that I do, not for love or freedom or creativity (though it can seem that way sometimes), but that I do out of a fear of being/feeling/seeming inadequate. Of course, the differentiating is a difficult task to say the least. I was also just thinking that some clues for how to go about this choosing might reside in the monastic tradition…synchronicity. And you remind me that much wisdom concerning all of this is, literally, a few miles away — as Chittister and her community are that close to me! Time to re-read some of her books. :)