“In the spiritual life, the word ‘discipline’ means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up.” –Henri Nouwen
“So what is your dream job?” Before my inner-censor kicked in, I blurted out: “I would like to work at a monastery for half the day and then hang out with my kiddos for the rest of the day.” (Who says this kind of thing? I guess I do.) To be surrounded by silence and beauty sounds a bit like heaven to me, but too much of it would leave me lonely for my people. Even though my messy, noisy, suburban life is far from monastic, my deepest work can still be to pay attention: to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to God, to Beauty, to Life.
Clearing space is essential to a life of paying attention. There are many ways to do this. Carving out time and reducing our habits of consumption are two good places to start.
Clearing Space with Your Time
There’s never enough time, right? Carving out time for paying attention is hard, especially in a culture where busy is celebrated and sometimes unavoidable. Let’s avoid the guilt trips here, okay? Instead of thinking about time in terms of should, let’s think about what you need. Let’s think about creating space with our time as an invitation: our soul is inviting God; God is inviting our soul.
Every time that I meet with my spiritual director, she asks me the question: “What are your plans to take care of you?” We need to plan. Without a plan it is too easy to let every minute of your week rush by without time to pause.
It’s okay to start small. Can you find 10 minutes somewhere in your day? Guard that 10 minutes. Ask your soul what it needs for 10 minutes. Does it need silence and breath? Sit and breathe for 10 minutes. Does it need to run? Go run. Does it need to paint or make music? Do that. Each soul is unique. Honor your soul’s uniqueness. Just because my soul needs to sit still and breathe for its 10 minutes doesn’t mean that is what your soul needs with its 10 minutes.
Does your soul need longer chunks of time? How can you carve that out? Can you put it on your calendar? Maybe it’s a few hours once a month on a Saturday afternoon. Maybe it’s a retreat that will help you care for your soul. Maybe you could check into a hotel all by yourself.
If you feel like you don’t have any time, maybe you could look at why. What is filling your time? Is there anything that is draining the life-force out of you? If so, could you let it go? I know it’s not always possible. But letting go of the life-drainers can open up time for something beautiful and new to grow. Empty spaces are so full of possibility. If you think you can’t possibly let these life-drainers go, maybe explore why that is.
Creating space for your soul is one of the best gifts that you could give to yourself and to those around you.
Recognizing and Reducing Over-Consumption
We are a consuming people. Most of us have sat down to a buffet and consumed past the point of comfort. We learn to recognize this feeling and to hopefully avoid it in the future. But over-consumption isn’t limited to food.
We consume words. We consume noise. We consume other people’s thoughts and ideas.
It’s not a bad thing to listen to what other people have to say. But do you know what you have to say? Do you know what you think? Do you know what your heart dreams for? Can you hear it? Or is there too much noise buzzing around your head?
Is the radio always on when you are in the car? That’s not a bad thing. But what would happen if you turned the radio off every once in a while? Would you find space to hear your heart?
Is the television always on? Or are you always on the internet? There are a million ways to stay distracted.
The first time that I met with my spiritual director, she said to me: “Jess, I’m getting the feeling that it would be really helpful for you if you gave up books for a while.” I stared back at her. Who ever heard of giving up books? Aren’t books good for you? I love books. I usually have a stack of about 10 books that I’m reading through at one time.
But I knew that she was right. I had been consuming so many books that I didn’t have space for my own thoughts. I could regurgitate other people’s thoughts. But there was little space for listening to my heart.
I took a break from books. It maybe lasted a month. But in that time, I started witnessing poetry. I probably would have missed it had my eyes been in a book during every spare minute. Now, I try to be more mindful about how I consume words, how I consume noise. I want to be able to hear what I think. I want to be able to hear my heart. The heart, after all, is where we can hear God’s whisper.
Your Turn: What kind of space does your soul need? How are you planning to take care of you? What hurdles do you face to create the space you need for paying attention? Is there anything that you are over-consuming? How can we help each other?