For those who are still part of the working world, the structures of workday and weekend, of alarm clocks and meeting schedules, of performance reviews and annual whatnots give the impression that we are very busy and possibly also quite important.
The fast pace of life, the expectations and restrictions, the challenges and successes of a role (whether paid or unpaid) all conspire to form our habits into slick routines that can be continued on little sleep and mostly adrenaline. They guide our activities so we can impress and please whilst avoiding judgement and rejection.
And even though we might rail against this at times, when facing retirement or a change in role (like from work to parenting or becoming empty nesters) it can be daunting to consider who you are without that identity to define and guide your living.
These changes are inevitable and if we are to age with grace, then it is wise and kind to withdraw a bit now, to take time out to slow down and give ourselves space to reflect on what are the motivations beneath all our activities and all our various doings. This doesn’t mean give up half your activities…it might just be an hour each week that you intentionally set aside for quiet reflection and review (“nothing harsh or burdensome”~ St. Benedict’s Rule).
- What do I do simply to avoid boredom or loneliness?
- What has been at the centre of my devotion? What have I set my life in orbit around and is it worthy, or is it a false god?
- Who am I without my role or function?
- What does it mean to be un-needed?
These are questions to ponder and live into, so take some time to journal your reflections and then return to them as new insights arise. Obviously, your responses to these questions will prompt more questions…so don’t do half the job. Follow up, gently and with compassion. Once you have identified what you do to avoid feeling lonely or bored treat it as a red flag – here is a habit that is keeping you from awakening, that is fuelled by fear, that will not offer you any resources for eldering. What will you do now? How will you proceed?
The text below is for you to chew over and try on for size…. we are on a path of transformation – becoming like Christ because we are in Christ… so how would it be to imagine yourself in this scene as Jesus the Christ asking the questions?
When Jesus and his disciples were near the town of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them, “What do people say about the Son of Man?” The disciples answered, “Some people say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet.” Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter spoke up, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”Matthew 16:13-16
What did you notice about imagining yourself to be Jesus? How did you respond to the invitation to stand in the shoes of the Christ?
Most of us have some degree of investment in what others think of us; most of us identify with a role of some kind whether that is primarily a relational role or a professional one; most of us are aware of the status and advantage connected to wealth and material excess and of our ability to accumulate these things.
These three – reputation, activity and acquisition – were identified by Henri Nouwen as the most common ways we seek to establish a sense of self worth and value in our community. They run unconscious programmes that form our habits and our stories about ourselves and others.
Kathleen points to a total of eight concerns that may trap us and trick us into identifying with our stories, our drama, our avoidance strategies, our false gods.
They are: loss and gain; pleasure and pain; fame and shame; praise and blame.
These are good places to begin looking for signs that you’ve been snagged, bound and gagged. When you notice your mute attachment to something that is less than fullness of life you can simply ask yourself, can I let go?
What shift can I make right now to live more lightly? With gratitude? With compassion?
A tangled web, a jumbled tumble
Done mindfully, reflectively and with intention, sorting through jumbled yarns or threads, buttons, screws, or other collections of things and untangling or otherwise ordering them can be very therapeutic. It’s best if you make sure there isn’t enough time to finish the job all at once, that way you can stay conscious of your intention, which is not to get the job done, but to attend to the process of doing the job, and to allow that process to be part of your reflecting on the eight concerns and your entanglement with them.
Inhaling: Who do you Exhaling: Say that I am?
You could make this prayer your practice this week for those moments when you are drawn into your avoiding loneliness and boredom patterns of activity…when your fingers start itching to pick up the phone and check your messages/email/newsfeed….when you find yourself beginning to plan some future fun thing…when you start to look for someone to keep you company or just be a warm body in the same room…whatever your go to hiding place.
Try to make the breath deep and slow going in and out and check in with your body…. Belly soft, shoulders released, chest lifted, long through the back of the neck.
It’s not possible to be angry and grateful, fearful and grateful, shamed and grateful, proud, blaming or greedy and grateful. So practice gratitude as an antidote to the whole gamut of the eight concerns. What about combining this practice with Brother Lawrence’s ‘interior glance’?
Pause. Turn inward bringing your attention to your heart space with gratitude, a wordless glance. You may feel gratitude is present, you may not be aware of it as a sensation, but offer this interior glance with grace and then return to whatever you are doing.