“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”
Last December, I began this blog as an exploration of contemplative living, but over time, writing entries fell by the wayside. Humbly, I realized I did not have a clear understanding of what I meant by the contemplative life, nor what living it entailed. My interest in contemplative spirituality is decades old and my fact-based knowledge was just enough to get me into trouble!
This summer I spent time pondering what daily ingredients make up a contemplative life. Rather than formulas, techniques, or check-lists of practices (meditate for 15 minutes, read scripture, lectio divina, etc.), vivid and emotion-filled images came to mind: relationships of intimacy; committed community; a life marked by a spacious daily rhythm; life partnership; restful sleep; meals that are a celebration of life, rather than a means of injury to my body or the bodies of other creatures; times of silence; work in balance with the rest of life; noticing beauty; attention to the earth; meaningful conversation; and lots of grace. I found Maria Lichtmann’s understanding of contemplative living helpful: a “non-consumptive” way of life. Rather than driven by an insatiable appetite to consume life experiences and people, contemplation is a patient and loving attention to whatever and whoever is in the present moment.
For me, attending to the present moment often takes courage. I shy away anxiously, procrastinate, and distract myself through the vast array of technological or media options. Practiced daily, this shying away can become a habit. Living is full of small practices, day in and day out, like piano scales. These embodied life scales are challenging in the beginning and then become more and more effortless, more habitual. Not all scales are life-giving. As I enter the next decade, I am asking : what small practices, what scales, will form in me the life I desire to look back on at 70? What practices will craft a life of intimacy, courage, follow-through, rhythm, attentiveness, love, and grace? As I live this day, how am I living my life?
Practice for today: Attend deeply to the task that is causing anxiety. Simone Weil writes that sustained attention to a difficult geometry problem also cultivates the practice of attention necessary for both prayer and relationship. As I consider my prospectus, attending to its completion is a life-giving practice that will spill into other areas of my life.