By our friend Molly Sabourin, who I always find such inspiration from!
Last week my twelve-year-old daughter and I were at the grocery store. While we waited in the check out line I automatically reached for my smart phone and began scrolling through my text messages and emails. I was so completely absorbed in the digital world at my fingertips I failed to notice the elderly woman behind me struggling to get her groceries out of her cart and on to the conveyer belt. It wasn’t until I heard my daughter saying, “Excuse me, can I help you with those?” that my attention was drawn back to the here and now, where my flesh and blood neighbors were shopping, and living and breathing, all around me. I was humbled by my own child’s alertness to a need right in front of us. It was definitely a wake up call, one I’ve been mulling over for the last few days now.
Not making room in my life for moments of stillness and attentiveness affects me negatively.
Numerous medical studies have linked excessive smart phone use with anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, poor time management, etc. I have personally found that being distracted by technology and having my mind consumed by news stories, social media feeds, and Netflix shows makes it impossible to find beauty, peace, and opportunities to serve others, in the present moment. It is so important for my physical, spiritual, and emotional health that I regularly recommit myself to incorporating stillness and attentiveness into my day. Below are three tangible ways I am trying to do just that:
1. By Finding Rest In Nature
One of my favorite poems is Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things:”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
There is something mystically calming about starting my morning slowly and quietly on the porch, actively listening to the peaceful sound of birds chirping. God reveals Himself in nature and making concerted efforts to find Him in the beauty of blooming flowers, sparkling stars, or a breathtaking sunrise, rewards one with an unearthly sense of tranquility. Long leisurely (technology-free) walks in nature should not be considered a luxury but rather essential for mental clarity, physical wellness, emotional stability, and spiritual growth.
2. By Resisting The Urge to Break Out My Smart Phone During Moments of Downtime
It used to be that grocery store check-out lines, doctors’ waiting rooms, and trips to the park with my kids provided regular snippets of stillness in which to day dream, observe my surroundings, strike up a conversation, pray, read, etc. These frequent disengagements from the over-stimulating and stress-inducing noise of news updates and banal entertainment gave my mind and soul a breather. I was much more apt to smile at and make eye contact with others, or to notice ways to be a healing presence to others, when I was free to pay attention to my surroundings. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware reminds us that, “As Christians we are here to affirm the supreme value of direct sharing, of immediate encounter -not machine to machine, but person to person, face to face.” Resisting the impulse to reach for my phone and get lost on-line during moments of downtime enables me to be present for the people God has placed in my path and to listen for His whispered guidance from one minute to the next.
3. By Counting My Blessings
Recently, a dear friend of mine gently reminded me about the power of gratitude. Before going to sleep she tries to pray a brief section of the Akathist of Thanksgiving in order to stay mindful of God’s great love and mercy:
Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life’s journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age
– The Akathist Hymn: “Glory to God For All Things” Ikos 1
Gratitude begets joy and courage, and opens my eyes to blessings I take for granted or ignore when preoccupied with emails, social media, or worries about tomorrow. It is a very powerful tool for keeping me anchored in the now and spiritually observant. Inner stillness is required for relishing in the soothing warmth of a light summer breeze, the curiosity and wonder of a small child, the sweetness of a strawberry, or the taste of heaven offered to each and every one one of us in every uplifting connection we make with a neighbor, a family member, or friend.
It is encouraging to remember we have the power of choice. It only takes a few minutes to pause when I first wake up and ask God to keep me awake and alert to His beauty, grace, and peace in the smallest details of my day. Stillness and attentiveness never fail to enliven my weary heart and quiet my restless soul.