“You’re snowballing,” she says in a tone of compassionate caution. “Yes, I know,” I say. It has been an intense day, an intense week, an intense month. There is too much to do, and my stores of energy, time, and focus do not feel up to the task of meeting the various demands that press in on me—much less doing so well. And so I become paralyzed, unable to make more than the smallest headway.
How can one tap into spaciousness when the demands of life seem to press in all around? It seems counter-intuitive, but I have learned over time that the best thing for me to do in such moments is to slow down. Even to stop. Francis de Sales, a Roman Catholic Bishop in the early 17th century, said that believers should pray for an hour each day—unless they are especially busy, in which case they should pray for two hours! This is akin to the ancient wisdom of Sabbath that can be so hard to claim in our culture of productivity. “How can you ask me to stop?!” the Ego asks incredulously. “Trust me,” says the Heart. “You’ll feel better and stronger if you do.”
In our go-go-go! culture, with endless to-do’s, there comes a moment when the only choice is to stop. Stopping and attending to the moment at hand has become one of my central spiritual practices—at least when I remember or am reminded to do it. This may involve taking a walk, getting on my mat, or simply cooking a nourishing meal. The specific activity matters less than my attentiveness to the moment—what Joseph Goldstein describes in his book The Experience of Insight as “bare attention.” I stop. I pay attention. I breathe.
This, then, might be my prayer: “See the bright orange of the lentils, the vivid yellow of the turmeric. Hear it sizzle. Smell the spicy fragrance. Feel the waves of heat rise from the stovetop, warm on your face. Soon this dish will please your palate and nourish your body. For now just attend.”