I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Bryan Berghoef’s wisdom on finding your inner monk outside the boxes of your calendar:
Letting Go of the Schedule
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
My usual mode of operation involves a certain amount of busyness. True for all of us, no doubt! We have a schedule. Appointments to keep. A certain amount of anxiousness occurs as we drive to the meeting or hop on the subway to arrive on time. Preferably we’ll be a bit early, but from time to time we experience the proverbial “last-minute distraction,” which means running late. On those days, we tap our foot anxiously, waiting for the bus to arrive. We put the pedal to the metal in the car, perhaps running a light or two. In our brisk, determined-to-be-on-time walk, we brush past someone slightly rudely and distractedly to make the meeting.
Currently I frequently work in my home office. One of my three boys will often pop their head in the doorway: “Dad, can we play a game?” “Dad, can we play catch?” “Dad, help me build a fort.” I hear them, distantly. I’m absorbed in my work. Have to get these emails out. That report is due tomorrow. “Not now, son. I’m busy. Daddy has to get some important things done.”
At dinner, I sit for enough time to scarf down the meal my wife lovingly prepared. I quickly wash it down with some water. Eating is done, what’s next on the schedule? I have a meeting to get to tonight. Surely they understand that. Tomorrow there’ll be time to chat. Tomorrow there’ll be enough time to be present. To look my children in the eyes. To ask what they’re up to. Always tomorrow.
At some point, all this rushing around, all this clock-watching, all this schedule-keeping becomes too much. I realize something is amiss. When I want to be a monk in the world, the first thing I need to do is let go of the schedule. Stop being uptight about deadlines. Stop worrying about what time it is. Not every email deserves an immediate response. Not every meeting requires my presence. Not every bump or beep on my phone should pull me away from those I am with right now. The world does not revolve around me.
When I let go of the schedule, I begin to be present. I slow down. I breathe. My pulse slows. I set the table intentionally, grateful for each person this plate represents. I serve the meal with care, and take each bite and savor it. I look around and smile. I have nowhere to go but here. No one to distract me but those here now.
When I let go of the schedule, I can even enjoy work more contemplatively. I can see my commute as a gift – a chance to drive or walk more slowly. To be aware of those sitting next to me on the bus or the train. To be open to an engagement with someone new, rather than feel them as a nuisance. To see something from my boss’s perspective, or talk with a coworker. I seek to be a peaceful presence there as well.
When I let go of the schedule, I take time to go for walks. If in the city, I notice the storefronts, and wonder about the persons involved in each establishment. I notice a mother and child walking by, wondering about their day, their situation, their life. They become an object of love and compassion, not an obstacle in my hurry to arrive. If walking in the country, I go slowly, and savor each tree or flower I pass. I pause to notice what is happening around me. I sit quietly in the shade. I listen to the sounds. A few birds. A cricket. A frog. When I let go of the schedule, I take time for what nourishes me. I read a book for fun. I give attention to a hobby that brings me delight. I smile more. I am patient. When I remember that each moment is pregnant with divine presence, I can exhale, and just be.
Lao-Tzu, the philosopher and poet of ancient China, put it this way: “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” In another place, he adds this: “In family life, be completely present.”
I am a contemplative-in-training. And one of the most basic steps on this journey is also one I struggle with daily: let go of the schedule. Be present. Breathe. Smile. Drink in the fullness of the gift of each moment.
“Dad, can we play catch?”
“Absolutely, son. Absolutely.”
Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and the author of Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God. He works for the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, a non-profit teaching contemplative practice and leadership in Washington, D.C. Bryan is married to the author Christine Berghoef, and has four children. They have recently relocated to a flower farm in Holland, Michigan. (Photo by Christy Berghoef)