Being truly human

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When I rush, I scratch my watch, I break its strap, I knock into another person’s shopping, I talk too quickly, I forget to breathe…

For a person like myself who desires a contemplative lifestyle, I have to laugh at such rushing. I used to be struck by people who would comment on the intentions of mental health professionals – saying they were doing their jobs for their own purposes. “I became a psychiatrist because I was looking for a cure for myself,” said my uncle. Perhaps I want to become a contemplative for similar reasons.

The contemplative way

I am not that different from others. I have my own motives for doing things. I meditate because it keeps me sane. I pace myself with work tasks for it maintains my energy and direction. I unwind at night with a book because it helps me to sleep. I have the same basic needs as others.

At the same time, the contemplative way of life offers something more. I recall a contemplative nun who has one ear out for the bell to call her to work and prayer. She sees the fruit of her routine as a kind of contradiction; following a set order of tasks from morning until night actually gives her great freedom. She has little time left for TV or radio because she finds it takes away her time. Does this speak of a core truth today? Can she offer us any contemplative wisdom?

Not getting distracted

Even though we may hate adhering to a daily schedule for fear of restricting our lives, we are constantly restricted through our repetitive willful behaviours. Watching pornography, for example, distracts us from reality. Almost half of us who surf the internet watch actors pleasure one another. We feel a load of chemicals rush to the surface, our breath shortens, our heartbeat races and we feel ‘alive’ for a moment or two.

But, when our pleasure trip is over, how do we feel? – Great, relief, frustration… When we return to reality, do we ever wonder where our time has gone? Could we have done something better? I think so. 

Invitations to grow

There are things that are clearly not a waste of time. For example, I’ve been told that we can never do wrong by going to someone’s funeral. At this event, we pay respects to a life – perhaps a well lived one in which the person showed love to their family, friends, neighbours and strangers. They may have served humanity through expressing their talents, through contributing to something good, through being most fully alive.

Of course, a person may have regrets in their life. Perhaps they hurt others in their words and deeds, and if they had another chance would do things differently. Perhaps their addictions made them less loving and compassionate. Perhaps they would avoid certain behaviours to make the best use of their time. And that is how contemplative wisdom can kick in. 

The magic moment

The contemplative traditions, e.g., Christianity and Buddhism, use disciplines such as prayer, meditation and mindfulness to live a more insightful and fruitful way of life. When we train ourselves to sit in stillness for five minutes – letting our thoughts and feelings come and go – we become more open to the present moment. Or we can stop by a river and let ourselves gaze into the water. We may notice the strength of the current, the glistening sunlight, the shallow and deep areas of the river bed.

Something magical may happen: we become aware of each moment as they come, we stop predicting the river’s next move, and when we return to having a conversation with a friend find that we are more present and calm.

How wonderful it is not to think of what we will say next to each other. The words that we speak in the moment are more than enough. The more we practice mindfulness, meditation or prayer, the greater our sense of being becomes. And isn’t that who we are? Human beings!

Letting things be

As I finish writing this reflection, the rushing of earlier seems so unnecessary. I was afraid to let things be. To allow myself the time to put my cash back in my wallet after purchasing a cup of tea and donut. To allow myself the time to process my next career move. To let the words I say be part of a bigger picture around me – my brother, the sky, the movement of the car. I enter into a space that lets all fear and unpredictability go.

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