Why are we so busy? I ask myself, with new wisdom gained from a heavy tray that fell on my foot, interrupting my forward motion through life. Result: a couple of weeks in confinement, forced to slow down and, above all, to listen to my body’s needs rather than my planned preferences. No Christmas gatherings, no following my usual patterns.
To my surprise, it was not a bad thing. We talk about listening to the body, but do we know how? These last weeks it has seemed more like a language we never take the time to learn. At first I chafed at the pain that schooled me to stay off my feet as much as possible, irritably trying to get things done that “had to be done” before putting my foot up again. Such basic efforts as preparing a meal took much longer that I wanted to give them.
But instead of following my head’s orders with little thought for the vehicle that carries it, I was forced to rest when rest was needed, to put my foot up when it cried out for relief, and to care for myself moment by moment on a very basic level. Now I’m left with only a clear sense of the need to be careful, of having physical limitations I’d better not step over.
Is getting better taking longer than I’d signed up for? You bet! On the other hand, why am I—and perhaps you—driven to do so much, to make hay while the sun shines? What are we getting from each day’s busy efforts as we continue to conform to our usual pattern? And what happens when something unexpected interrupts our usual activities? There’s a cosmic message in this wake-up call from a falling tray and a bruised foot, or any other spoke in the wheel of our automatic pilot.
Lucky for me, the day before the accident I was asked to write a book review of Richard Rohr’s Divine Dance for the coming issue of Parabola. Reading, writing and editing took my mind away from foot pain for a little while each day and into “the circle dance of Being.” I began to live the question, “What is presence?” raised both by Rohr’s book and my accident. The lesson: When we live on automatic pilot, so busy we haven’t time for self-awareness, our loss is always a loss of presence. It sometimes seems we can’t be here in this present moment until we are forced to be here.
Nevertheless—and we know it—our deepest need is to return as often as possible to our body/being. Here’s how Thomas Merton summed it up in No Man is an Island:
“We are warmed by fire, not by the smoke of the fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship. So, too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflections in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around us, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.”
So this coming year, my aim is to live with a little more presence, welcoming uncertainty, following rather than leading, (taking my own advice from last January’s blog, Are You a Leader or a Follower?)
Most importantly, the words I heard long ago from Gurdjieff ring in my ears: “Do not protect yourself. And remember, no effort is made in vain.”