Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Thankful Game

There are days in which this little view of the outside world is where I focus my gaze in order to quiet my mind.  Days when there are just too many topics in my head vying for attention, when the world (of homeschooling these hooligans) seems too noisy for my taste, and my to-do list is filled with the monotony of the unimportant.

I have been reading snippets from Voluntary Simplicity here and there lately, and last night, having finished On Writing, but not wanting to start anything new since I had a hold to retrieve from the library, I picked it back up and started reading from where I left off a week or so ago.

Do you read two or three books at a time?  In my younger days, I would never have dreamed of doing such a thing, but these days I often find myself in the middle of a tiny stack of books.  It comes from my dependency on the library, I believe, because if a hold comes in from another library in the system, I must stop whatever else I am reading in order to return the non-renewable book in time.  I kind of like it, actually, but since I am happiest when surrounded by ample reading material, this extra little quirk won't come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows me.

It was in last night's reading of Voluntary Simplicity that I found a succinct description of what I so often find frustrating in myself: "The crucial importance of penetrating behind our continuous stream of thought is stressed by every major consciousness tradition in the world: Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Sufi, Zen, and so on.  Western cultures, however, have fostered the understanding that a state of continual mental distraction is in the natural order of things."

In a world where we are thought to be more successful or more productive if we have fifteen balls in the air at the same time, and where advertising and popular media surround us with impossible-to-ignore loud noises and flashing lights and bright colors, there seems to be little or no reward for learning to quiet our minds and focus our thoughts to a place of singular thought, a state of perfect calm.

In living such a fast-paced lifestyle, driven by the unconscious urge to consume, acquire, and accumulate, we fail to notice our children's need for attentive conversation, our own mental and emotional need for silence and communion with God, and our physical need to breathe more slowly.

Oh, of course there is a lot to do.  There are dishes in the sink, and clothes in the dryer, lessons to plan, and piles of work on my desk.  There are educational goals to strive towards with the children, different creative endeavors that each of us want to pursue, and always, always, a to-do list to attend to.

And I have no plans to take only what I can carry and move into a hermit cabin in the woods.  I like the society I belong to.  I am grateful for modern conveniences, for smartphones, for access to newspapers and radio stations from all around the world.

But that does not mean there are not ample moments during the day to put a stop to all of the competing interests ping-ponging in our own minds, to slow down the breathing, the rushing, and the disjointed thoughts competing for a corner of our awareness.

Tonight, when The Carnivore worked way past late, and I was terribly frustrated over not being able to get quickly to my desk, and the irritation I felt towards the children for being so emotionally whacked out today was threatening to make my brain explode, I gazed out my kitchen window for a few breaths, and then I carefully, and deliberately, set the table for three.

Princess Hazelnut said the blessing, "Dear God, thank you for the food, and our friends, and our family. In Jesus name, Amen."

Then both kids asked for a little bit of the red wine vinegar that I was sprinkling over my lentils, and a lively conversation was sparked about the nutritional aspects of vinegar, and about protein and high-fructose corn syrup and pumpkin seeds and packaged cereals and how vinegar could possibly be different from wine if they both came from grapes, and suddenly the work on my desk seemed less important.

The only thing that mattered was this time spent talking about food and nutrition with my curious children.  For the first time all day, I was not in a hurry, The Boy Wonder was not on the verge of a temper tantrum, and Princess Hazelnut was not clamoring for attention.

Suddenly, the princess shouted, "Y'all!  We forgot to do our thankfuls!"  And so we went around the table, doing one of the only things we do correctly as a family, stating what we were thankful for that day.

The Boy Wonder, so innocent and still so present in each moment, said the most profound thing I had heard all day, "I am thankful for this talk we are having."

And me?  I am thankful for a son who takes such great joy in dinner conversation, and for the reminder that what I was doing right at that moment, eating dinner with my children, was the only thing that mattered right then.  Everything else could wait.


Michele said...

Jerry reads much more about Eastern meditative prayer than I could ever imagine doing, but I have started reading an eastern orthodox book "The Jesus Prayer," out of sheer desperation. I am tired of flitting around like a hummingbird in my mind even if my body is having a rare moment of stillness. I get so frustrated with the girls and their friends in a museum, aquarium, zoo, etc, when all they seem to care about is rushing to the next exhibit and show no interest in connecting with the exhibit before them. I do it every day in so many different ways myself.

Sarah Beam said...

I hear you with the frustration, Michele. Sometimes I actually think my head will start spinning.