Sabbath rest? Life-giving work? In the rush, rush, rush of 2009, is either possible? After a summer of rest and relaxation, I truly want to return to work without accepting the stress of too-much-to-do.
In the FRIENDS OF SILENCE newsletter I read the following quote from ANCIENT FUTURES by Helena Norber-Hodge.
"I found that the Ladakhis had an abundance of time. They worked at a gentle pace and had a surprising amount of leisure. Even during harvest season, when the work lasts long hours, it is done at a relaxed pace that allows an eighty-year-old as well as a young child to join in and help. People work hard, but at their own rate, accompanied by laughter and song. The distinction between work and play is not rigidly defined."*
The Ladakhis have what I want: a gentle pace, a surprising amount of leisure, everyone working together, laughter and song. How do I get there? During my first week back at work, I have noticed myself accepting one new duty after another, but with each new duty a little voice asks, how can I do all this? As I start to panic, I remember the words from Psalm 127, "It is vain to rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil--for you, O God, give sleep to your beloved."
So not only do the Ladakhis have what I want, but God promises I can have it too! But how? As I have been thinking about this challenge, I have thought of three possible ways to cooperate with God's grace: surrendering, letting go, and being present.
By surrendering I mean giving up control and the desire to do it all. Instead, I must practice each day to trust in the grace to do those tasks that must be done. By starting each day with centering prayer, I can intentionally surrender not only myself but also my day. This gives me the opportunity of yielding to grace instead of blindly throwing myself into my work. In the thousands of choices I make everyday about what to do next and how to use the time, I can grow in my ability to yield to the gentle interior guidance of the Holy Spirit. When I feel stressed, I can use that feeling of stress to remind me to pause and remember that I live and move and have my being within the Divine Mystery who has promised to guide me and to live through me. I know this will take practice!
By letting go, I recognize that I cannot do it all; sometimes I have to let go of what I want to do or have planned to do. This means breaking the habit squeezing in one more task or activity. Last week I found myself driving down Fairview Avenue praying for green lights so that I could get to a yoga class. When I realized I could not possibly make it, I gave up and headed toward home, I immediately felt peaceful and remembered the advice of a friend who said, "When you are going somewhere, always leave ten minutes early." Leaving ten minutes early actually means giving up those last minute tasks that make me late. Instead of looking at the clock and thinking I have time to take out the garbage or grade another test, I need to leave right then for my next class or meeting so that I get there on time and relaxed.
The third guide for "a gentle pace" is to be present to what I am doing. Washing dishes is a good example. I actually enjoy washing dishes--if that is all I am doing. Too often, however, my mind runs away with the many things I want to do after I finish the dishes. When this happens, I find myself frantically scrubbing one dish after another, wishing I were done. Because I am not present to what I am doing, I have put myself in a state of discontent when I could have been enjoying the task,
Workaholic? Perfectionist? False Self? As I start this new school year, I pray for the grace to live in the moment and to do the work God asks me to do--to do it with love, joy, peace, and yes, even laughter and song.
*FRIENDS OF SILENCE, September 2009, Hannibal MO 63401
Carol Quest is a presenter of Centering Prayer and a member of Minnesota Contemplative Outreach.