Some mornings, I wake up inexplicably restless. My mind starts rambling before I’ve made it downstairs for eggs. Should I go to grad school? Am I being aggressive enough in my job search? Should I clean out my desk drawer? I keep moving. I shove a salad into a Tupperware, tie up my vans, and steer the car onto I-95S towards work. By lunch, the monologue hasn’t stopped: Have you checked your budget today? What are you going to do for the summer? Can you believe you’re almost thirty? Eventually, the questions come spilling out onto paper and into conversations with friends.
Sometimes, the restlessness drives me to good decisions. Feeling restless is what drove me to start reading about cities five years ago, to take up kickboxing this winter, to start this blog. But sometimes, my restlessness is futile. I end up more discontent and anxious, less capable of dwelling in the now, especially when the answer is to be still. When this answer comes, it’s hard for me to settle. I crave change. I thrive in crisis. I like reaching for goals and I always want to know the plan. But an excerpt from Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust put this in perspective for me by retelling a story about a meeting between a Buddhist monk and a Christian leader:
“So they finished dinner and Nhat Banh said he would wash the dishes before getting the tea. Jim offered to do the dishes, while Nhat Hahn was preparing th etea; but Nhat Hahn said, “I am not sure you know how to wash dishes.” Jim laughed at him and said, “Of course I know how to wash dishes. I’ve been doing it all my life.” “No,” the monk said, “you would be washing the dishes in order to have your tea and dessert. That is not the way to wash dishes. You must wash dishes to wash dishes.””
I realized that in my obsession over the future, I’m forgetting how to wash dishes for washings’ sake. Or how to actually enjoy dinner without thinking about what needs to be done before bed. Or how to notice the trees on the drive to work instead of fretting about what I’ll do when I get off at 3PM. (Speaking of things we see from the highways, consider these very clever billboards by Jennifer Bolande).
Manning suggests something similar to mindfulness, which has become a buzzword lately. This article from The New York Times gives a functional overview:
“Intentionally paying attention to the present nonjudgmentally” is the way that Janice Marturano explains it. […] Dr. Baime said another common misconception is that mindfulness is about learning to be happy. It’s not. Nor is it about eliminating stress. “Stress doesn’t go away, ever. That’s why we call it stress management rather than stress elimination,” he said. Rather, he said, mindfulness can “create a world where you experience depth, meaning and connectedness. You see joy and sadness more fully and settle more deeply into an authentic way of being.”
Manning goes a level deeper, drawing a connection between trust and presence.
“Now/here spells nowhere. To be fully present to whoever or whatever is immediately before us is to pitch a tent in the wilderness of Nowhere. It is an act of radical trust — trust that God can be encountered at no other time and in no other place than the present moment. Being fully present in the now is perhaps the premier skills of the spiritual life. […] Calm foresight regarding future engagements and appointments is responsible behavior so long as it is not a compulsive escape from Nowhere.”
Isn’t this the key to true mindfulness, true attention to the present? Trust that God will take care of the future? Consider this from Psalms:
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
I hope you’re inspired to take in details today. Consider the strangers sitting next to you at the café. Enjoy making dinner without worrying about eating it. Enjoy eating it without worrying about the dishes. Enjoy washing the dishes without worrying about brushing your teeth. And if you need an extra push to get there, be encouraged by these words from Wendell Berry:
P.S. Aren’t these fun photos? I took them one (very hot) summer day in Brooklyn two years ago. Except for the last one; that one I took in SoHo.