Today started like most workdays. I rolled out of bed at 5am and headed for the coffee pot. I packed a lunch, watched the weather report, and hit the shower. I dropped my daughter at school and reached my desk by 7:15am. Another workday filled with lots of “have-to-dos” and not nearly enough “want-to-dos.”
At my workplace, we begin every day with a stand-up meeting. We gather in the reception area and chit chat about last night’s football game or our kids’ antics. Then the gathering is called to order by our boss who leads us in prayer. This practice goes back years and is rooted in our boss’ deep faith in God. We pray for guidance in the decisions we make throughout our day. And we pray for a list of people who may be sick or burdened in some way. Some people have been on this list for years. It’s always changing and growing.
Today’s meeting was interrupted by a phone call from a co-worker. His son had stopped breathing in school and needed to be revived with an AED device. The gravity of it weighed on us. We stared silently at each other. Suddenly the work that had brought us together seemed inconsequential. We paused again in prayer for this child and his parents.
It was a smack in the face, a jarring moment of realization when we were forced to stop ignoring our humanity and mortality. It brought a screeching halt to the constant rush-hour pace of our to-do list-driven lives. Wait a minute. What am I doing? Am I focusing my life on what’s really important?
Pema Chodron writes, “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing? You know you will die, but you really don’t know how long you have to wake up from the cocoon of your habitual patterns. You don’t know how much time you have left to fulfill the potential of your precious human birth. Given this, what is the most important thing?”
Her answer to this question is simple but not always easy for us to put into practice. She says we need to leave a gap. Take a pause in your day. Do it frequently. Take three breathes. Consciously stop the cluttered discourse going on in your brain. It gives you a chance to re-assess what’s really important to you. You can take these pauses by the coffee pot, or in the car, or by the copy machine. Stop thinking about what has to happen ten minutes, ten hours, or ten days from now, and bring your full attention to this minute.
This is, of course, the most basic of meditation practice. To breathe, empty the mind, and pause in stillness. Feel the sensation of your breathe going in and out of your nose or throat. Listen and focus on a sound or a smell. Step out the door and look up at the sky. Perhaps choose a mantra to repeat to yourself that helps you clear away all other thoughts.
Meditation and prayer make good partners and are a part of many faiths. In one of her Super Soul Sunday interviews, Oprah Winfrey asked Deepak Chopra to explain the difference between meditation and prayer. He said, “Prayer is your speaking to God and meditation is allowing the Spirit to speak to you.” He went on to explain that, through an ongoing meditation practice, the Spirit’s words will come to us through our intuition and manifest as inspiration. I think, in many ways, this is exactly how the Spirit answers our prayers.
Taking time throughout your day to pray or meditate can reduce anxiety and stress can bring perspective to those questions of “what am I doing and what is really important.” It’s an anti-gravity device, lifting the weight off your shoulders. It may inspire you to change the balance between those “have-to-dos” and “want-to-dos.”
It creates the opportunity for you to remember the blessings and beauty of your surroundings. It’s a time to perhaps express gratitude for having enough. It may inspire you to hug your kid and tell her she’s your favorite person. It may remind you to call a friend who is suffering and tell her she is loved. At the end of the day, you might look back and realize that was the most important thing you did today.
© Vulnerable Path, 2014
To read Pema Chodron’s entire essay, click here.