Crowded. That is the word that I would use to describe a lot of things in our modern lives. Our cities are crowded with people and buildings. Our streets and highways are crowded with traffic. Our schedules are crowded with countless to-dos and obligations. Our houses are crowded full of stuff. Our minds are crowded with all the different things we need to keep track of in our fast-paced world. Does your life feel crowded? I know mine does!
I spend a lot of time wishing that I could slow down to appreciate life and everything that I experience each day, and yet most days I end up feeling distracted - distracted by the crowded noise of life as a working professional. It often feels as if I'm helplessly flowing along with everyone else who is caught up in the rat race, just trying to stay afloat and getting jostled by everyone else who is trying to survive alongside me. I end up competing for space with those around me, instead of taking the time to know them and their stories, to appreciate them as fellow human beings, or to make their lives better through our encounter. Occasionally, the frantic pace will slow, and I will find myself separated from the crowd and the torrential flow of life, able to come up for air, catch my breath and take in my surroundings. In these rare moments, instead of being able to appreciate the stillness and scenery and the break from trying to stay afloat, I will often become anxious and unsettled. I am so used to fighting for my survival and trying to keep my head above water that when I receive a much-needed break, I tend to spend it anxiously trying to anticipate any future dangers that may lie ahead. I am trapped in a crowded world with a crowded soul, unable to rest and yet exhausted from fighting.
Does this resonate with you? Does your life and/or your inner being feel crowded full of things, worries or distractions? Does your crowded soul prevent you from resting and enjoying life even when things slow down?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you might be wondering where to go from here, or what could possibly help. After all, there are certain realities that come with living in the Santa Cruz area, and most of us can't just drop the things that make our lives feel crowded. What we can do, though, has to do with our inner crowdedness. It is possible to live a very full and busy life while being inwardly still. Jesus did this - from what we know about his life, he was frequently followed by huge crowds wherever he went, crowds full of people who were needy and demanding of his time and energy. And yet somehow he was able to consistently respond to these people with love and grace, making those whom he encountered feel truly seen and loved. How was he able to do this? In various accounts of his life, we are told that he regularly made space to be alone, to pray, to reflect. He made a priority of making space in his busy life, and yet this space didn't come through reducing his daily care for others; it came through taking regular time to be, to find a grounded sense of peace in solitude and silence, and he was able to bring this inner peace into the midst of his busy daily life.
How often do you take time to just be, to reflect on your life and what a gift it is, to appreciate the world around you and the people you interact with each day?
Our society does not encourage us to make this kind of space; in fact, it seems to encourage the opposite, with thousands of satellite tv channels, multiple social media outlets, and the news of the world at our fingertips anytime we choose to look. Our lives are crowded, but so are our souls, and unless we are willing to practice creating some internal space to become aware of what is going on inside, we will remain inwardly crowded, unable to effectively care for ourselves.
So, how do we begin to create this internal space in our lives? We can start simply...a little time and effort can go a long way! Here are some ideas:
- Start your day by taking 5-10 minutes in the morning to reflect on the day ahead. Become aware of any feelings you have about the day. Acknowledge these feelings and pray about them if you are so inclined. Consider what you might need during the day given how you are feeling.
- Go for a walk. During the walk, focus on what a gift it is to be alive. Notice things with your senses - breathe in the air, feel the sun or wind on your face, see the trees and other scenery.
- Take a short break in the middle of the day to separate yourself from whatever you are doing. Pray, if you are so inclined, or else simply enjoy focusing on your breathing for 5 minutes. Pay attention to any feelings that you become aware of and to what you might need given how the day is going and how you are feeling.
- End your day with a brief reflection on how the day went. What went well? What was challenging? What do you wish had gone differently? Take a few moments to reflect on these questions and, if you are so inclined, choose a focus to have for tomorrow based on any insights you gain from this reflection.
In the same way that exercise feels uncomfortable when we are out of shape, be prepared to feel uncomfortable if you try any of these, or other, suggestions.
Even though we are tired of the way things are, our souls are used to being overcrowded and underfed, and so when we start to make changes, it can feel very unfamiliar and even unpleasant at first.
My next blog post will address obstacles to making space and why something that seems relatively simple can feel so difficult.