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Simplicity is less about the material things you own than it is about maintaining the pleasures that knit you into the sturdy fabric of life.
While television can be a pleasure when it energizes, encourages, instructs and inspires, too often it is a passive way to zone out. After a night of watching television, you rarely hear, “Wow, that was so great. I had the time of my life.” True pleasures reconnect you to the web of life, rather than disconnecting you and dropping you into an electronic twilight zone.
Like most busy people, I have to use time consciously or work will expand to fill almost every waking hour. Each one of us makes choices. Filling the bird feeder requires money and effort, but there’s nothing like the sight of a couple of Cardinals to lift my spirits. And I still love to care for the yard. Watering and dead-heading petunias throughout the summer can be demanding, but the work involved is far outweighed by the abundance of purple, red and pink blooms. Our two dogs, walking hairballs that they are, are a source of constant fun and companionship.
Think about the things you savor that give you the time of your life. Walk around your house and take stock. Do your possessions energize you, or are they a drain? If you own things that are more trouble than they’re worth, simplification is in order. That’s why God invented yard sales.
Spend time with your loved ones making music, reading, playing the piano, baking a batch of cookies, tending a fish tank, or any hobby that needs time and care. Life is lived in the small places, the in-between spots whose magic lies in their capacity to reconnect us to our souls.
Our culture prides itself on efficient multi-tasking. We read while we eat, watch television while we study, and think about our problems while driving. No wonder we’re so stressed and depressed.
I invite you to try a little experiment, and put your mind fully into one thing.
Let’s take the shower as an example. Why not think of it as meditation with peace as your primary focus? Stand under the shower and pay attention to your breathing. Let every out-breath be an opportunity to let go of the past. Let the warm water wash over you. Imagine that it’s a waterfall of light, washing fatigue and negativity out through the bottom of your feet. Wash your hair with loving attention, as you would do for a small child. When you catch your mind wandering, take a small breath and come back to meditations. You’ll have more energy and peace all day.
The same principle applies to everything you do. You can carry dishes to the cupboard with your shoulders hunched up to your ears and a scowl on your face, shaving precious seconds off the race to unload the dishwasher. When you finish, you’re likely to feel cranky and used up. No one will appreciate your efficiency. What they will notice is that you’ve turned into a grinch. Throwing efficiency to the wind, you could take some deep, relaxing breaths and move into the moment, enjoying the feelings in your muscles as you hoist the dinner plates into the cabinet. When you drive, you could slow down and enjoy the scenery, rather than racing to the finish line.
Haste really does make waste. Not only are you likelier to drop the dishes or have a car crash if you hurry, but you’re wasting the essence of your life. Life is not what happens when your shower’s over, when the dishwasher’s empty, when breakfast has been eaten, when the kids are in bed, when the report is completed or when you’re off your shift. Life happens now, one moment at a time. When you’re in that moment, efficiency takes care of itself, time seems to slow down and life is once again a delight.
Take a few more minutes to taste what you’re eating, chewing slowly enough to extract exquisite pleasure out of every morsel. Relax, enjoy each task and savor each moment. You and your life will become one again and you will come home to yourself.
Bob Mueller is the assistant vice president of mission & stewardship at Hosparus. For information, visit www.bobmueller.org. The views in this column are those of the writer.