“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence…(and that is) activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.
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 our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” Thomas Merton, as quoted in Wayne Muller’s book, “Sabbath.” I recommend the book.
I suggest that most of us are painfully aware of the amount and degree of violence that occurs in this world. If you are attuned to the media, in any fashion, you can’t escape hearing about it. Even if you’re not a fan of the media, social conversations often include references to the craziness of our violent world. This past week, the Brussel’s Airport bombing would be just one example. Add to that other countless suicide bombings, and war video footage, and one can only shake one’s head in disbelief. When will it stop?
Yet, there exists another form of violence, a very personal one. It’s the one alluded to in my opening quotes. And, at least in theory, this one is a lot easier to stop and prevent, because we support it. It’s the violence of busyness. It’s the continual assault of “fight or flight” chemicals and hormones, perpetuated on our bodies, due to the loss of our ability to rest. It is, according to author Wayne Muller, “the violent enterprise of a successful life.”
So let’s stop for a while. Stop looking at the turmoil outside ourselves and peer inward, creating an awareness of the ongoing turbulence that rages within. How can we begin to think of addressing world peace, if we, ourselves, are engaged in an inner war?
What would happen if, throughout our day, several times a day, we take our foot off our personal accelerator, close the cover on our day-timers, drop the to-do list, and just coast for a while? Don’t even touch the brake, simply coast and see what happens. Coast, and move our head from side to side. Enjoy the view around us, the view we previously neglected while entrapped in our busyness. Relax. When we are immersed in the rush of life, we lose peripheral vision. We see only that which lies directly before us. When we slow down, we notice and appreciate the little things. That would be one definition of peace. Not world peace, just peace within. That’s a start.
In her book, Practical Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill vividly describes the experiences of one who pushes and rushes, and one who coasts.
“The old story of Eyes and No-Eyes is really the story of the mystical and unmystical types. “No-Eyes” has fixed his attention on the fact that he is obliged to take a walk.
For him the chief factor of existence is his own movement along the road; a movement which he intends to accomplish as efficiently and comfortably as he can.
He asks not to know what may be on either side of the hedges. He ignores the caress of the wind until it threatens to remove his hat. He trudges along, steadily, diligently; avoiding the muddy pools, but oblivious of the light which they reflect.
“Eyes” takes the walk too: and for him it is a perpetual revelation of beauty and wonder. The sunlight inebriates him, the winds delight him, the very effort of the journey is a joy. Magic presences throng the roadside, or cry salutations to him from the hidden fields.
The rich world through which he moves lies in the fore-ground of his consciousness; and it gives up new secrets to him at every step.
“No-Eyes,” when told of his adventures, usually refuses to believe that both have gone by the same road. He fancies that his companion has been floating about in the air, or beset by agreeable hallucinations.
We shall never persuade him to the contrary unless we persuade him to look for himself.”
Author Matthew Kelly, in The Rhythm of Life, says we need to engage in the art of slowing down. He says it may not be an easy art to master, but it’s necessary. He too advises us to take our foot off the accelerator and look about and within. Good advice. And just how do we accomplish this in a world that we, perhaps believe, demands more and more from us?
Here’s a start. Here’s a mantra to adopt for today. Only today. You are free to go back to the violence of busyness tomorrow if you choose. For today; I notice the little things. That’s it. Not very sexy, eh? I notice the little things.
I notice the little things with my sense of hearing. Stop and coast, listen, listen intently, what do you hear?
I notice the little things with my sense of smell. Intentionally breathe through your nose. Aromas? Odors? Smells?
I notice the little things with my sense of touch. Feel your clothes on your body. Whenever entering or exiting through a closed door, notice the temperature of the door knob or push plate. Throughout the day notice texture, temperature, corners, edges, smoothness, roughness.
I notice the little things with my sense of taste. What taste are you experiencing right now? Sweet? Sour? Here’s a suggestion; at your next meal, eat slowly such that you actually taste, savor, and appreciate, your food.
I notice the little things with my sense of sight. Stop, just stop, and look around. Look all around. Slowly. What do you see?
Rest, relax, coast, heal the effects of violence. Cultivate inner peace, inner awareness. We’ll get to world peace later. For today, I notice the little things.