In the last week I ordered two books and I got to add three books to the catalogue of the Hewitson library. I did get pretty excited about that and I’m looking forward to all that reading and treasure hunting, but just to put it in perspective, I also ordered four different kinds of loose leaf tea and that was also very happy making.
And on my kindle I bought The Book of Longings, story of Ana, wife of Jesus, by Sue Monk Kidd. I have appreciated Sue’s writing ever since I read her memoir ‘When the Heart Waits’ back in 2001. I’m not sure when I will take time to read the novel, but the desire is there.
But let’s circle back because I’m sure you are curious how I managed to choose three books to add to the catalogue of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand’s library – and I know you want to know which books I chose: When everything’s on fire by Brian Zahnd; Curveball by Pete Enns and Grounded by Diana Butler Bass. The deconstructing/reimagining faith section of the Hewitson is sadly underrepresented! And I was able to add these books because of co-teaching that class on spiritual traditions and practices at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.
So now you have some idea of how I am moving with the flow of resourcing, thank you for your support and concern about my creative habits :^)
In the meantime, while things have still been pretty quiet inside, I listened to this podcast which is about pulling out some of the threads of what we were taught by the church about men, masculinity and marriage. It doesn’t really connect with anything else in this post, but I found it so, so helpful to hear some of those things said out loud by people who can see beyond them, around them and through them. And those prepositions are important – which does connect to the rest of the post!!
Now, finally, to the wave. When I was in Norwich I found a gorgeous bookshop and while browsing, spotted this title: The French Art of Not Trying Too Hard. How could I resist? I could think of so many people I wanted to give that book to….but first, I am reading it. And here’s what I love…
Beginning in the middle
The first chapter is about how hard it is to begin things – so true – and the French wisdom here is…so don’t. Don’t start…just kind of noodle about doing a bit here, a bit there….go back and change something… add some more…voilá! You began without beginning.
Pause to reflect
Have you ever tried this way of not beginning a thing? Is beginning even the hardest part for you? OR, is finishing harder – as in actually sticking with it until it’s done? Is it done when you have lost interest or run out of energy? OR Is it easier to start but hard to know when to stop editing/ revising/ adjusting/ perfecting?
There’s a chapter on how long it takes to get to the place where something is effortless, and where you could be top/genius level at whatever you have dedicated 10,000 hours of practice to. The argument is that anyone can be a genius with this amount of work, and it’s true while it is also not true. The example is given of a man who dedicated himself to golfing, aiming to be a top golfer within ten years and starting from absolutely nothing. He took lessons and he practiced alone and also with others for six or so hours every day. After about five years he sustained an injury which set him back, and then two years later he was still pretty average and he was also quite depressed! At year 8 he gave it up and conceded that while he believed the general theory of 10,000 hours still held true, the particularity of people and contexts meant that it wasn’t a guarantee of anything.
The aim of being effortless in doing is that once you aren’t trying anymore, once something is so deeply within you that you can relax and enjoy without any extra tension, then you are at ease even while doing. And from this place of ease you can experience grace, flow – magic.
Pause to reflect
Is there anything you would dedicate 10,000 hours to? What would you love to be genius level in and move with grace into and through?
Joining the flow
And the chapter which most captured my attention (so far) is the one on gliding. There’s a shift in the model of engagement from ‘beginning’ something to ‘joining in’ with something. Unlike beginning, where you are the source of movement, you initiate or push into action, with joining there’s no pressure point of entry. Instead, you tune in to what is already flowing and you slot in, you match and move with the energy that is already present. You listen to what is happening out there, not to what you can generate from within; you adapt to what is already there and consider yourself a tiny particle of the whole. You sense the rhythm of the dance you want to enter – you don’t try to impose your own tempo on it. Your aim is for ease, grace, beauty, partnership with the wave that is flowing, not dominating, subduing or mastering the wave – a ridiculous idea!
To be fluent – to flow – you have to move…we don’t learn by watching movement, or listening – you can only correct a move once you have begun it.
I expect you can already tell why I like this idea, but here’s the part I like best:
In the end it all come down to attitude, imagination and…prepositions. You can be ‘against’, or ‘in’, or ‘on’, or ‘with’. You can strain, struggle and compete, or you can relax, accept and give in.The French Art of Not Trying Too Hard
I think I want to say ‘surrender’ rather than give in, or perhaps ‘let go’, because these two -surrender and let go – have a spiritual practice flavour to them while ‘give in’ sounds a bit too close to ‘give up’ to be inspiring. What do you think?
As I reflect on all that, this very familiar passage of scripture comes to mind
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.
Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’NRSV
I find this idea of gliding, of joining an already moving stream, catching a wave of energy very appealing as a way to read this passage.
Jesus sends the disciples out to meet and connect with their neighbours. Yes, there are instructions which I have always interpreted with a particular world view – that of effort and with the aim to make the other change (because we don’t need to). There was a frame of battle in the sending out – Jesus’ message had to defeat the worldview and belief system of those who did not see and believe his way. And the message is peace, simplicity, healing and hope. How ironic – and tragic – that the message of peace and healing arrived with a push, with the intention to interrupt, insert and overcome. But imagine if we read and understood the whole movement of this passage as aiming for ease and for beautifully joining the wave that’s already flowing!
Go back to the gospel passage and imagine yourself in the scene – but have gliding, surfing and joining as your interpretive lens on what Jesus is saying. Read it through two or three times until you have a sense of how the passage flows, and then imagine yourself as one of the disciples – or as yourself among the disciples. Listen to Jesus as he gives his instructions and then imagine setting off with your companion to a nearby village. You probably want to talk a bit about what Jesus said….then imagine arriving in the village and meeting some people – maybe in the market…maybe by the well…maybe on the road…imagine a conversation that flows with Jesus’ instructions in mind. What happens next?
Once you have followed the scene to where it ends (or where you easefully move with the next wave that flows on), spend a few moments in prayerful reflection, perhaps talking with God about the experience.
What, if anything, shifts for you when you have a flow framework for this passage (and for life)?
A flowing chant
There are lots of options for you to choose from – many of the Taize chants capture the simplicity and peace of a flowing melody which is healing for many of us who have a habitually anxious and effortful way of being in the world.
And I found this beautiful chant which has the phrase ‘Light from Light’ in Latin flowing through the background
If you have a chant, or a piece of flowing music that you enjoy, how might you practice being with it this week?
Perhaps you start your day with it somehow – listen on your commute? Listen while you brush your teeth? Set it as your wake up alarm?
Perhaps you use it as a STOP and divert for your inner critic whenever you notice yourself caught in the caustic flow… (I have found this a particularly helpful technique to take the energy out of that voice).
Surf the earth, surf the breath
In the chapter on gliding there’s an exploration of how snow, air and water all provide a natural element of flow. In a sea of snow the earth is transformed into waves with crests and hollows. The air offers thermals, wind gusts and squalls to catch and ride, and the ocean is constant ebb and flow. There’s also the rhythm of dance, and you can’t impose your own tempo upon the dance but must join by matching – after that you may improvise. Similarly, there is the partnership of horse riding when the rider ‘merges’ with the animal, submits and ‘goes along for the ride’, eventually earning the right to influence and direct where the horse goes and flows with the joined energy. Skateboarding is an urban version of skiing, involving some effort to initiate a wave, but then also flowing with, along, from, onto…a creative merging of effort and glide.
Where could you practice gliding, riding, merging and improvising this week? What are the rhythms of your life and how might you shift the ways that you join and flow with them? Where might you surf your way, your walk, your talk? Where might you be able to relax your efforting? Where are you pushing the river?
Here are some suggestions:
Watch the rhythm of your conversation and see what you notice about effort, flow (Flood? Trickle?), notice repetition or particular words, phrases or patterns, notice silence, notice pressure, notice emptiness, notice where there is ease and simplicity. What do you want to shift so you can flow with ease in words and in silence?
Watch the flow of thoughts – my favourite, back by popular demand…alright, back because I think it’s essential…just meditate. The youtube recordings of the latest 40 days of rhythmic breathing practices and meditation with Theresa Shay, yoga teacher extraordinaire are here – an excellent guide for beginning a practice like this. (plus, breath and mind flow…a bonus!) Watch and see what can glide, flow smoothly just by shifting the focus of your attention.
Watch the flow of your energy. Watch for where you feel flat and like everything needs energy from you to make it go. Watch for where you feel edgey and like you have more energy than you can use, or like there are roadblocks/obstacles that are holding you back from pushing ahead. Watch for where you feel ease and calm, where you are flowing, watch for the rhythm and for where it is beautiful.
And just for fun…enjoy this gliding, flowing beautiful 10,000 hours of practice to make it look effortless….ice dancing!