Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Not Accomplishing Anything

It’s easy, at least for me, to get caught up in the need to be doing something useful, to be accomplishing something. All day long I strive to be productive and to check things off my task list. Even on weekends, I like to feel that I’ve gotten something done -- cleaned the house, taken a long walk, read something worthwhile. Even most Christian religious practices aim at some culminating point of accomplishment, the Eucharist for example.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been practicing once a week with the Nashville Zen Center. Their practice of silent meditation is very similar to centering prayer. The main difference for me is the sheer amount of silence in their weekly gatherings, longer than any centering prayer groups I’ve been a part of.  We do almost a full hour of silent meditation, with a short period of walking meditation in the middle.

Though more is not necessarily better, there is something about these longer sessions that has challenged me in a new way. Specifically, they have challenged me to learn to be okay with not accomplishing anything. Throughout my time there, my mind returns to the myriad other “useful” things I could be doing. At the end of sitting for so long, I don’t feel that I’ve accomplished anything. How could you even evaluate whether a silent  prayer period has been successful? I haven’t earned any spiritual points. I haven’t become any discernibly closer to God. (How could I become closer to God who is always with us and in us, anyway?) I don’t even feel less stressed or more mindful.

But, I’m beginning to realize that’s okay. To want a certain thing from prayer -- a certain feeling of closeness to God, etc. -- is to make an idol of our own ideas about what prayer should be. In the end, God is in control, and we must learn to let it be. There’s certainly a time for accomplishing things, but I hope that I can learn to let go of the attachment to the need to always be achieving, accomplishing, moving forward. I hope that I can learn in both prayer and ordinary life to work with peaceful purpose, rather than frenetic drive. I hope that I can learn to be okay with not accomplishing anything.

1 comment:

Anna Cotton said...

John, I'm smiling as I write because this morning my "to do list" includes preparing a reading for our meeting tonight with our centering prayer group. The reading I chose includes a quote from Thomas Keating, "God looks at our intention... ." He's talking about how God is very interested in our hearts and spending time with him in silent prayer where we aren't trying to accomplishing anything is the best way to develop a heart-to-heart connection. God may be smiling too. I think he knows that when we grow in loving him it will show up in ordinary life. Not because we are trying to accomplish things, but precisely because prayer and ordinary life are linked to his peaceful purposes.

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