When you’re too busy to be spiritual
You’ve heard it dozens of times from many wise teachers – not only is it important to spend some time connecting inwards each day, it’s essential.
Easy to say if you’re living in the splendid isolation of a monastery but your life just isn’t like that. Each night you collapse into bed exhausted.
With a house to run, a family to look after, a busy job, the dog to walk and the cat to feed, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
It’s either one or the other
It can feel like a simple choice – you’re either being spiritual or you’re running your life. The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way.
Our lives are full of Stuff To Do. Even in a monastery, there’s no escape. As a novice monk, Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn remembers that one of his jobs was to wash the dishes for well over 100 monks. Life was far from Nirvana with no soap and freezing cold water.
Are you just ‘getting through’ your life?
You may treat much of your everyday life as something you ‘have to get through’ in order to get to something you’ll enjoy more. Your mind is usually anywhere but here. Looking forward to that cup of tea after loading the dishwasher. Or how you can’t wait to flop in front of the TV after a demanding day at work. Or having that glass of wine after finishing off those emails.
For the young Thich Nhat Hahn, with his endless pile of dishes, eventually the penny dropped. Suddenly he saw how his mind was preoccupied with the cup of tea he planned to have after finishing the dishes. It was if he was not really there when he was washing the dishes. And if he couldn’t be there when washing dishes, he probably couldn’t be there when he was having his cup of tea either.
How the everyday can be spiritual
Here’s the solution. You can use your everyday tasks to take you directly to the heart of many spiritual practices – becoming more alive through being present in the here and now. Just like Thich Nhat Hahn.
Here are four practical ways to combine being spiritual with running your busy life:
1. Pick one thing you do regularly that you think you just ‘have to get through’.
Anything you do regularly will be great for this. Things like washing the dishes, taking the dog for a walk, making dinner, your journey to work or shopping for food.
2. Today, while you’re doing it, see if you can treat it like an object of meditation by focussing on the details in a new way.
Thich Nhat Hahn realised he had a choice. He could wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes or he could wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. Practising this while ironing, I notice the texture and colour of the clothes on the ironing board, the weight of the iron in my hands and how my body automatically adjusts its posture to move it easily from the holding plate to the cloth and back again.
3. When your mind wanders (as it does for all of us) stop for a moment, take a breath, feel your feet on the ground and connect with the physical sensations in your body.
No sooner have I put my duvet cover on the ironing board than my mind is writing tomorrow’s email to a client. So I stop ironing for just a moment, become aware of my breathing, feel my feet on the floor and the feel of the iron in my hand. It takes only a few seconds to bring myself back to the present, back to being fully here in my life.
4. Allow yourself to be surprised.
Amid the pile of dishes, Thich Nhat Hahn suddenly realised the simple fact of standing there, washing the dishes, was a wondrous reality.
By becoming more conscious of the details of your experience, it’s possible to appreciate your everyday responsibilities in a whole new way.
It doesn’t have to be a choice
You don’t have to choose between being spiritual and getting things done. Even monks can’t sit in meditation all day. Nor is our work always easy – sometimes there’s no soap and the water’s cold. Whatever you have to do, when you do it consciously, you will be here for the miracle of daily life. What’s more, you’ll really enjoy that cup of tea when you’ve finished the washing up.