[music of the soul series]
Once we learn the spiritual art of STOP, then (and only then) can we engage the spiritual art of PLAY. In this context I’m using “play” in the widest sense of activity—both vocation and recreation. Work and play. That which occupies and directs our calling in the world.
It happened again last night. Kellie and I were sitting on the couch in front of the fire with a glass of wine, talking about the events of the day. Suddenly I hopped up and walked into the kitchen. To her puzzled look I responded, “I need to get some paper and write something down.” “Oh,” she replied. “I guess that means you weren’t listening the last thing I was talking about.” Dang! Busted.
Every person and personality has a natural orientation toward (and preoccupation with) memories of the past or anticipation of the future. We face a host of potential distractions all the time: regrets (negative past), recollections (positive past), anxieties (negative future), and daydreaming (positive future) are at least four. But life happens now. Life always and only occurs in the present moment! And fully embracing the present is a vital spiritual practice.
Just think about the word “preoccupied” that well described my condition on the couch. Someone is talking, but you’re somewhere else…lost to what is real by something imagined, either past or future. This is more than a marital annoyance; it’s destructive to the soul. Put another way, it’s a spiritual act to stay grounded in each moment, gratefully accepting the beauty and opportunity that’s been given in the now.
So if we were to learn the discipline of staying fully present in our daily activities, how would that impact our world? For starters, never again would we ignore, or diminish, or take for granted the people in our lives. Wow. That alone would be worth the price of admission. Let’s look at a few practical ways to stay present.
- Vocation. Most of us have a job (and if you’re in school, that’s your current job). As recently as 2011 a study shows that less than half of American workers are happy with their jobs. There’s no sense of calling or vocation attached to the work. And while all of us may have to hold down “just a job” occasionally, it is a spiritual act to discern and engage employment that aligns with our sense of calling. If this isn’t true for you right now, then start here. Take a Sabbath or sabbatical to listen to your heart; seek confirmation from your spiritual community; then take the risk to explore new options.
- Recreation. This is where “playing hard” comes into its own as a legitimate source of emotional renewal. Exercise, sports, hobbies, adventures, travel…all of these can be a spiritual act when we feel re-created. These physical activities help bring an essential soul alignment among head, heart, and body. Try being consciously present and experiencing them as an act of worship.
- Relationships. If you want to show up for the people you love the most, try these tips. Shut down your virtual connections—turn off your cell phone, the TV, and the laptop at strategic times. Ask thoughtful questions and listen. Maintain eye contact, paraphrase their words to confirm your understanding, and don’t interrupt or hijack the conversation. Listen more than talk. When it’s your turn, talk about not just events but the meaning of your experiences.
However you decide to “play” today, be all there. Don’t wish yourself into the past or the future but seize the present with a creative eye to what’s possible in the moment. Breathe it in. Soak it up. There are no ordinary minutes. And never, never, never tune out on your spouse! You know you’ll get busted.
How do you stay present when tempted to preoccupation? Share your thoughts below.