We live in a fast paced, busy world. And as nice as it might be to give up work, take time off from family obligations, or just not have to clean the house, none of that is realistic. If you are busy this article will walk you step by step through a plan to care for your spirit, in the midst of your busy life.
Human beings need spirituality. It is as essential for our health and wellness as food, water, safety, and connection. But as our lives have become busier and higher pressure spirituality and growth give way to just surviving. Busy people are often busy because they must be.
Still, there is more to life than surviving. It is one of the things that makes us human. Given even the tiniest hint of freedom human beings sing, dance, make music, pray, paint, and otherwise attempt to connect to something bigger than ourselves. I grew up in a Christian tradition where life and faith were impossible to tease apart. But it was also a simpler time. Only one of my parents worked outside of home, and extracurricular activities were few and fun. Life felt a whole lot slower and less packed.
Hope for the Busy
First of all let’s get something straight: being busy isn’t a virtue. For many of us it is required for survival, but that doesn’t mean we have to wear it as a badge of honor. It is totally OK to work toward a life that isn’t so busy. Second, this article will not be about adding yet another chore to your already packed schedule.
God has no interest in being the straw that broke your back. (So to speak)
Tasks, Tasks & More Tasks
At some point our lives became a list of tasks. Search “todo list” on any app store and the number of results you get back is overwhelming. There’s a reason for that. We are so busy that we cannot remember what must get done in a week, or even a day. We must have a little digital assistant to keep us on the straight and narrow, and for most of us spirituality is just another task.
Your spirituality is not an item for your To-Do list.
I think this is the single most important change we need to make in our thinking. For the last few decades spirituality has been a sort of “tacked on” item added to the rest of our lives. Buy milk, wash the dog, meditate. Which is OK as far as it goes, but when we stop there we sell ourselves short.
Imagine if you started to learn to play the piano but all you ever did was sit down once a day and practice scales. You would get mighty good at scales but I suspect you’d give up after a few months out of sheer boredom. And for many of us that’s what our spirituality has looked like. We go to church for an hour on Sunday, or we meditate for 10 minutes every morning, or we do a yoga class three days a week, and then we go on with the rest of our day. That’s just practicing your spiritual scales!
Toward a Holistic Life
There’s a better way. Being a spiritual person is not about doing a task, it is about how we live all the time. Or to put it the opposite way: you can spend an hour in church every week and not be a Christian. And that’s good news for busy people, because spirituality isn’t about adding yet more crap to your already too long list. Instead, it’s about the way we go about the things that already fill our day.
If you come from certain religious backgrounds that might seem very strange. You might have been taught that being religious or spiritual was about doing certain things that were spiritual or holy and that most everything else was profane or secular and to be avoided or at the very least endured.
But that sort of split in our lives is both very modern and extremely harmful. You are not a spirit who has been saddled with a body. Neither are you a body who occasionally needs to act spiritual. Human beings are spirit/body beings, one and whole. We cannot be human any other way.
Adjusting Our Thinking
I used to be right in there with you, trying to find time in my day to “add” spiritual practices. There were times in my life it worked well, when I was single I found my before bed spiritual routine to be a peaceful oasis. (It does not work so well in a busy family and would be unfair for me to expect it to.) And certainly there is a time and place for specific practices.
But what I have become more and more interested in as I grow older, and hopefully wiser, is how we can live our whole lives as part of our spiritual journey. I probably get this from my Grandmother who was a highly practical and also deeply religious woman. Her spirituality was a deeply integrated part of her life.
She gave me a hint of what could be. And in my adult life I came across the work of Brother Lawrence, and of Buddhist teachers both of whom saw no divide between the practical and the spiritual.
Brother Lawrence is famous for suggesting that one could (and should) wash dishes for Jesus. And one of my favorite stories of a Buddhist master follows.
Eat Your Rice
There once was a highly respected and deeply holy Buddhist monk. His life was an example to everyone around him, and pilgrims came from near and far to learn from him. One day one of them asked him how he had become so incredibly holy (something that shone in every aspect of his life). The monk thought for a minute and then said: “when I eat my rice, I only eat my rice.”
It has taken me far too long to write this article not because it is difficult but because we live in a world where “multitasking” has become expected. Just in the course of getting this far I’ve checked my email, gotten into a theological debate about communion on Facebook (yes really), spread some love on Twitter, checked on an order that’s being delivered today, and more.
I am doing way more than eating my rice. And you are too.
Have you read through this whole article without once clicking away from the tab or app? Be honest. The answer is probably that you’ve done a hundred other things in the process of reading this far.
So here is your challenge, busy, wonderful human being. Today I want you to do one thing. I want you to eat your rice (or potato, or bread). Just that. If necessary put your phone in another room (in fact do that). Clear the mail off the table, turn off the radio, TV, and yes the stream of the game on your tablet.
Now eat something (even a snack!) See I’m not even asking you to eat your whole dinner this way. Grab a snack you love. And savor it. Just eat it, don’t read Facebook, don’t type one handed, don’t take the dog for a walk. Just sit down and eat your snack. Pay attention to the texture of it, to the flavor. How does it smell? Let yourself feel the emotions that enjoying your favorite snack brings. Pay attention to whether or not you feel twitchy, bored, or anxious. (No judgement, just pay attention.)
When you’ve finished the snack, you are done. Simple as that.
Practice makes practice
There is no finish line for the spiritual life. You won’t someday arrive at spiritual perfection and be able to give it all up. You’ve heard the phrase “it isn’t the destination, it’s the journey?” There isn’t a destination folks, there is just the road. Which means that no matter how many “wrong” turns you take you are no further from your destination. Just step back onto the road and keep going.
Practice leads you to better practice, not perfection. Which also means it isn’t too late to start. You aren’t behind and there is no penalty.
It’s All Practice
The other truth that’s good news: it is all spiritual practice if you want it to be. Cooking is the mystical act of transforming raw ingredients into a gift for those who must eat but can also enjoy it. Bathing your children is an act of care, joy, and bonding (at least sometimes). Quilting is a direct tangible blessing for someone who will someday enjoy that quilt.
We can view our lives as a list of tasks to complete, or we can view it as a constantly unrolling chance for wonder and blessing. Everything we do, from voting to shopping is a reflection of what we value. Which means we are also constantly being presented with the option to live lives infused with wonder, connection, and joy.
Let’s be clear, I don’t often wash dishes for Jesus. That is to say yes, every moment of your busy life is an opportunity but that doesn’t mean that every moment will actually become transcendent. Most of the time when I wash dishes I’m already thinking about the next thing that needs doing. Most of the time I don’t remember to stop and pay attention. But sometimes I do. Y’all, sometimes is enough.
A Prescription For Busy People
How do you infuse your everyday life with spiritual practice? There is no one size fits all, the answer to that question is as diverse as people are but there are some best practices. Mix and match and see what works for you.
Step One: Cut Yourself some Slack
You are not alone. The world is full of busy people who desperately want to do better. So take a deep breath. Be gentle with yourself, this isn’t a race or a competition, and you cannot fail unless you do nothing at all. Even mistakes and failed experiments aren’t actually failures in spirituality.
Step Two: A Helping Hand
Set yourself up for success by choosing one or two of the suggestions below to help keep you on track.
- Sticky Notes! I need lots of reminding, if you are busy, you likely do to. Put a sticky note on your mirror with a reminder to say a prayer of thanks in the morning. (Even if some days it’s just thanks for coffee), or on your fridge to remind you to cook with intention and love (for yourself, your family, or your guests).
- Timed Reminders. Your cell phone doesn’t have to be a problem, use it as a tool. Set up some recurring alarms (choose a peaceful sound, not something you’ll dread hearing) throughout your day. Use them as a reminder to pause for a moment, to say a prayer, to do a breathing exercise, or to recenter your awareness.
- Wash Dishes for God. Choose one thing this week that you must do daily and offer it as a spiritual practice. Washing dishes, doing laundry, vacuuming. Whatever you choose be intentional about it. No multitasking, no phone, be present and aware of how the thing you must do can be a blessing when done as well as you are able.
- Meditate In Bed. Ever fall asleep meditating? Most of us have, and here is your permission to do it on purpose. Crawl into bed, close your eyes and meditate or pray, whichever is your practice. You may fall asleep before you finish and that is just fine. Busy people need rest.
- Read! I know we’ve all read a host of spirituality books. And while reading cannot replace actual practice it can often be helpful for getting to that practice. The options are nearly infinite but may I suggest my own book which focuses on the sacredness of our everyday lives? (You can get it on Amazon.)
Step Three: Start Over Daily
This final step is key. We all fail. We fail over and over again, it is part of being human. So cut yourself some slack, and let go of the guilt. Know right now that every morning is an opportunity to start over. Every evening is an invitation to renewal and change. There is no deadline, and there are no limits on your chances to try again.
So before you even begin say this to yourself: I cannot fail, because every day is a new start.
Work, Learn, Play, Rest
I invite you to to read and explore more about ways to weave spirituality into your everyday, or what “counts” as a spiritual practice. There are a thousand ways to “kneel and kiss the ground” (in the words of Rumi). What works for you will be different than others in your life.
Your play can be holy.
Your work, and so much more. One of the things we learn from the ancient monastic traditions is that everything we do is infused with light. (Or can be.) And that it’s all necessary. From gathering with friends, to expressing yourself with art, our whole lives are infused with goodness and possibility.
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