As is my usual, I don’t have too many ideas that are entirely my own. Maybe none of us really do. We meaningfully repackage—or a more contemporary term would be to re-mix—other peoples’ words and experience into significant practices in response to our own lives. This is one of those times.
In a recent yoga class on New Year’s Eve, my wise guide, Nicole, encouraged us to identify barriers. She used this quote from Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
I am ever mindful about how I make myself known to God and experience God’s love in tangible ways. One realization for me during that ninety-minute yoga class was how my over-thinking and second-guessing—too much attention on what I’ve already said or done or how I came across that I think I control—is a barrier to joy and being loved.
Mitch has reminded me repeatedly, as I lamented over the day, to focus on what I did do. It is true that I am often focusing on what I failed to do, however, just as often I think too much about what I did do or say or think that day. As an academic, I feel compelled to critically examine…everything? Okay, I am placing the blame outside myself and that is not exactly the reason for my self-conscious criticism. The truth is that being critical (over-thinking in my case) is a way that I try to control my life and how I view other peoples’ lives.
Even when the things I’m lamenting don’t seem to matter much—like eating out when I could have fixed a meal at home—the time I consider what I could have done, or said, or why, could be more productively spent. Why is it so hard to let go, to stop those inner conversations?
So, I write in my morning pages and rehash a decision or event and insight does often emerge. However, the idea that my overthinking is a barrier to being loved or trusting beyond what I do creates new possibilities for a response.
In our faculty retreat before the fall semester began, Jamie Smith suggested a practice to cultivate individual reflection in a healing way.
In Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed such a prayerful reflection on the events of the day called Daily Examen. The prayerful practice is intended to help us see God’s hand at work in our daily experience. The Examen evolves through five stages of reflection.
1. Become aware of God’s presence. To look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit is different than lamenting over what I didn’t do or selfishly focusing too much on what could have been.
2. Review the day with gratitude. Walk through the day in the presence of God to focus on the day’s gifts. For me, when I focus on relationships, not just what I did, the day changes. Relationships are reciprocal. It’s not just about what I did or didn’t say or do but what gifts I receive without doing much of anything.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. This is challenging for me. And here I will recite what I learned about St. Ignatius. One of his great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. I’m not sure I understand this but I’m reminded of the Rumi poem, “The Guest House,” and wonder what God is saying or preparing me for through these feelings that I either give over to completely or want to avoid.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. I have found this kind of prayerful attention significant. Most often what I have decided to “pray from” has been a seemingly insignificant experience or one that I am inclined to over-think.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
The last step, look toward tomorrow, reminds me of Buechner’s words that name my barriers that would be so easy for me to take up again as I look forward to a new day.
“Let go and let God”—which is so easy to say and for people like me so far from easy to follow. Let go of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light. Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you…because that is just what you are powerless to do. Even your own life…is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can be a life-transforming thought.
How do I know God and how do I open myself up to such transformation? By taking the time to review the day, I listen to my life; recalling the times that I protected my ego by paying too much attention to what I did, thought, or said and the times when I was open to recognizing others. When I find myself feeling defensive or trying to change others, I will ask for God’s mercy. When I notice that I did act with little self-concern, I will be thankful and experience God’s cleansing grace.
There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. …All moments are key moments and life itself is grace. Now and Then