Saturday, September 16, 2017

The gift of attention and the Meaning of Life

(Warning: 2 or 3 highly charged words ahead)

Due to a variety of circumstances, I have recently taken on what is essentially a full-time job. It's a volunteer position; I fell into it because the person who had it before me is moving away and there was no one else familiar enough with the work to take it on.

So I've noticed that my meditation periods have been suffering -- it's been hard to focus, and my normal automatic 20 minute awakenings have been shortened to 15 minutes or less as I am propelled into awakeness by a compelling/distracting list of to-dos.

I've also noticed that this blog is suffering as well: readership is down, which is almost always an indicator that my posts are fueled, not by spirit, but by thought.

And as I sat in meditation yesterday morning, I was forced to face that fact that I'm finding my new role very stressful, and that's what's interfering with my peace of mind. So last night, over dinner, I sat with my husband, who is carrying a similar load for similar reasons (see explanation below) and tried to talk through what it is that I find so stressful.
Here's what we're doing (you can skip this part if you want): For the last few years the two of us have both been involved in what initially was intended to be a local radio station. For a variety of reasons it became instead a local podcasting channel which posts 3 or 4 interviews a week about people and events in our community. The man whose vision this was, who started up the organization, had hoped it would grow. But -- again, for a variety of reasons -- while the number of podcasts, and people interested in being promoted by them, and people listening to them, grew, the number of people actually involved in producing them shrank, until it was just the original visionary and his wife, and my husband, and me, with a few other folks who were peripherally involved.

Which meant that without some serious fundraising we could not afford the rent on the recording studio we were using. So we ended up folding ourselves into another larger community organization which was building a new facility that had a tiny bit of room in it for a recording studio. As a result, we no longer pay rent, but we are now responsible for providing training in a variety of media arts for the over 1,000 members of the organization we now serve. And then the visionary and his wife decided to move to Denver to be nearer their grandchildren. So my husband is now in charge of the training arm of what is now a Media Arts Studio, and I am managing the podcasting arm.

So where am I going with this? (Yes, here comes the good part.) This morning I was reading Krista Tippett's new book, Becoming Wise. She was talking about the gifts of the L'Arche community in which Henri Nouwen lived his final days, and she said this: "Loving reality in all its imperfection is the necessary prelude to discovering God present and alive." (Note: so there's your first highly charged word: God.)

That single sentence triggered a whole train of thought, which is really what this blog is about. Because I found myself thinking about what Jesus said (highly charged words #2) about the Kingdom of Heaven in Logion 51 of the Gospel of Thomas: "What you are looking for is already here. you simply have not recognized it." To me this verse has always meant that we achieve that sense of wholeness, of infinite possibility, of oneness and connection that is the hallmark of what I think of as Heaven whenever we are able to be 100% present in the moment.

Think about it. What's the happiest you've ever been?  For me it's the times when I am fully present, when I am hugging my daughters, or creating art, or (here it comes, highly charged word #3) having an orgasm; when I am completing a project and know I've done it well, when I'm teaching and my students actually hear me and learn, when I'm meditating and I actually lose myself in the moment; when I'm sitting in the living room and that first ray of sunshine pours through the window and onto my husband's chair -- any of those times when I am just here. Now. Totally in the moment. It's the gift of attention.

And then I thought -- perhaps that is the gift and curse of addictive substances and actions -- that they give us the illusion of being fully present when, for whatever reason, we find ourselves unable to embrace that moment without them. And isn't that also the source of trauma -- when an event or a life becomes so intolerable that we are forced to step outside the moment to separate ourselves from the present?

And finally the aha moment: the stress I've been feeling is not about any of the particular tasks associated with this job I've taken on. The stress is because the sheer attention involved in tracking all the tasks and people I now manage is attention being taken AWAY from the present. This odd sense of joy, that both my husband and I have been so appreciating, the pleasure we've been finding these last two years in our new home, in our lives, in each other, and in our children, has been a joy of presence. We've been able to be fully here. And now, with this work we've taken on, that pleasure in the moment is lessened by the sense that we're always supposed to be thinking about or doing something else.

Which is, of course, how most people -- consumed as they are by the various demands on their lives -- job, household, finances, children, disease, pain, loss, etc. -- live. So then the question becomes, how can we both function successfully, be fully engaged with the lives we're called to lead at this moment in time, AND be fully present to whatever is right here, right now.

I suspect that if we can find the answer to THAT question, we'll have discovered the meaning of life...

1 comment:

SPD said...

Brilliantly insightful.