I woke early for a Saturday morning (6 a.m.) and though I longed to stay in bed, I got up and went right to work on the things I had left undone last night. I folded laundry, started a new load, did some dishes and organized a soccer uniform before I poured my first cup of coffee and sat down to read and meditate. I opened my daily tome, The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo, came across this passage and almost choked on my coffee. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace.” Thomas Merton
Merton wisely challenges us not just to slow down, but, at the heart of it, to accept our limitations. We are at best filled with the divine, but we have only two hands and one heart. In a deep and subtle way, the want to do it all is a want to be it all, and though it comes from a desire to do good, it often becomes frenzied because our egos seize our goodness as a way to be revered.
I have done this many times: not wanting to say no, not wanting to miss an opportunity, not wanting to be seen as anything less than totally compassionate (and I would add capable and competent). But whenever I cannot bring my entire being, I am not there. It is like offering to bring too many cups of coffee through a crowd. I always spill something hot on some innocent along the way.
It seems an old adage is a good place to start: Do one thing and do it well. Though I would offer it as: Do one thing at a time and do it entirely, and it will lead you to the next moment of love.
While I am not the peace activist Merton was referring to, I read this and thought of my actions and the many things I have scheduled for today, the way I already have my next eight hours plotted out in half hour increments, knowing where I must be and what I must be doing and who and what I am responsible for. I thought of tomorrow and the eight more things that are on my list of things to do. I thought of how any disruption of my plans could lead to violent thoughts: annoyance, disappointment, frustration. Though they may not lead to violent acts, those emotions certainly don’t promote peace in my heart, my life, or anywhere on the planet I can think of.
I had coffee with my friend T yesterday. She is one of the busiest women I know, on-the-go from 5 a.m. until I don’t know what time and up and at it again the next day. I asked her what her secret was, how she can seem to go non-stop without growing weary and she echoed Nepo’s words. She said, “I stay in the present moment. I don’t think about the past. I can’t worry about the future. If I just stay right where I am, I have enough. I am enough.”
One of my favorite things about her is that when I am with her, I never feel like I am getting splashed with hot coffee. I love to spend time with people like that, people who know how to say, “Yes,” to just one thing at a time. I am pretty decent at it myself, except with my kids and Tim and you know, the people who actually matter the most. They see me too rarely face-to-face and eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand and heart-to- heart. They see me in profile, driving the car, doing the dishes, typing into the computer, reading a book, taking care of business. I am there, but my ego is in charge and my heart is dormant.
As I race to get these thoughts written down in the midst of making breakfast, finding shin guards and packing for a 24-hour trip out of town, I consider the thought that all this multi-tasking might just be the most common and unrecognized act of violence of all.