I don’t claim to suggest any fool-proof methods or one-size-fits-all-solutions on this post. I’m just sharing some practices that help may and probably will be useful to some other people. I suspect there there is no ONE answer to the question, “How can I quiet down?” Think of medications and side effects. There’s no universal cure that works for everyone and one medication will effect different organisms in different ways. The troublesome side effects could be provoked by my unique body chemistry and can seem worse than the original malady. Yet the same medication might provide you real relief and be a genuine life-saver. Well, experience would seem to suggest something similar when it comes to the spiritual life. Deeper than those differences is the illusion than I could force “progress” or “effects” or “goals”. That entire perspective is probably off-track. Our spiritual life is not an assembly line punching out a particular product; it’s life and organic and can be messy. And we call it the spiritual life because my spirit becomes the arena for the Holy Spirit’s activity. I don’t force results or coerce the Holy Spirit. I respond or I don’t respond. I can learn how to be more attuned, how to recognize the Spirit of God; my will can learn to be more responsive. But I cen’t force this maturation into a fool-proof formula.
That said, I’d like to repeat something that Kurt wrote earlier on and that I posted last time: do one thing at a time. Concentrate on what you are doing; be engaged by it and don’t be thinking of the hundred other things you have to get done before the day is done. It’s surprising how enjoyable the routine can become when I slow down and let it engage my energies and imagination. Even jobs I don’t relish are redeemable. Even an energetic job can become relaxing. Who is really putting the pressure on me? Granted, there are work situations in which I might be coerced into a certain pace or constrained by time limits. But how often do I put the pressure on myself? Even if I’m rushing to get a job I don’t like out of the way, I’m applying pressure and focusing on what comes next. I’m not participating in what I’m doing now. Yes, it’s a real sacrifice to take this approach but the rewards can be real, too.
When I have time to set aside for quiet, for simple, wordless prayer, there are a few conditions that might be helpful. One is not to track down and fight distractions, as if I’m Rambo parachuting into combat. Distractions will come. I like to think of them as taking a child for a walk in the park. The child will wander off the path, wiggle her hand out of mine to go pick a dandelion, or he’ll go sit on the gravel path to build a fort out of pebbles. But I don’t put a leash on the kid or spank them for doing what kids do. I’ll cut them some slack, join them for a moment at their level, then dust them off, take his or her hand in mine and continue the stroll through the park. Distractions are like that. Don’t try to banish them–that’s a great way to get overrun by them. Cut them a little slack, meet them at their level and gently walk them back in line. They may even contain a nugget of prayer in their little fists; they may remind me of someone or something I need to bring before God. They may be another of those unexpected resources for peace and silence. But if I start to combat them, I can make them bigger and more powerful than they really are.
Sometimes when I’m troubled by a disturbing mood–anger or fear, whatever–I would do well to use that as food for prayer, rather than trying to get away from the feeling. I can postpone prayer and quiet indefinitely trying to get everything in order first. If I try to get away from a disruptive mood, it will keep chasing me. Prayer is not getting away from what’s unpleasant or uncomfortable. I don’t have to be serene to pray; many of the Psalms and the entire Book of Lamentations can disabuse me of that opinion! I can bring my discomfort to God and, with God, unpack it. That’s not giving into a distraction; that’s bringing my true needs and vulnerability into my life with God. In can also quiet down my inner life by accepting what is an important pre-occupation in my life.
Many people use a word or a phrase–a quote from scripture, a word of Jesus, whatever–to help focus their attention. This also works well, especially a word that has emotional and ethical resonance for me. Just as I might throw a bone or a biscuit to a dog to keep him quiet, a good word, a well-chosen word might be just enough for the imagination to gnaw on and stay quiet.
to be continued