It’s a funny thing, how subtle life gets. Growing up, our focus is so wide we could paint rainbows across the sky with the brush we are using to watch and play with life. And even in child-raising years, our focus is fractured and spent, like being in full-time combat, trying to see around every corner, second-guessing our every decision, making everyday efforts grand – even if it’s just to get the trash out to the curb in time for the pickup.
Such a success it was to close the day out knowing that there was only a dryer full of clothes to fold and put away. All else was settled.
And then comes no children. Dramas fade, becoming someone else’s responsibility now. Even illness becomes like a slow-moving river, doing its best to erode the banks of life, but becoming frustrated at the sturdy roots still there, still exerting their power.
The problem with you, Julia, is that you always have to be challenged.
My mother, from over an infinity of decades.
I always dreamed that it had been stated differently: The great thing about you, Julia; or, The thing I like best about you, Julia. . . . .
But, no. In my mother’s eyes then, it was a problem.
My life has become a routine of routine. A circle of repeated motions. Like a dance of small stirrings, always practiced, but never perfected.
Except, it’s not God now telling me, again. It’s me.
My noonday prayers are too short, I think. Too easy. Not enough of a challenge, I guess.
So I become enamored of the idea of doing an examen as a lead-in to my noonday prayers. There’s even a series on noonday examen meditations on line that I can follow.
And I did.
Five things to do:
- Ask for the grace to see my life through God’s eyes, not my own.
- Give thanks for God’s gifts.
- Look back on the events of the past day.
- Look at what’s wrong, how have I fallen short?
- Look toward the day ahead: what one thing should I do in the day ahead?
I’ve learned that there are variations on this. I could add (or substitute), I suppose, the recognition of something I am grateful for, something that went very right in my day. And there was always gratitude to be added to the prayer-steps.
I did this straight, as it was meant to be done for quite a few weeks. Then I noticed my balking. That inner shoving away that I can detect from miles away. So I tried it at different times of the day. I even added other Ignatian elements (an inspirational reading, and a very short meditation) in which to hide my discomfort to the examen.
None of it worked.
I came to realize that I felt that the examen was making fun of me. Directly. Specifically.
You, Julia, do this, and notice your life.
That’s what Ignatian spirituality is all about, after all, noticing your life. The little, bitty pieces of it.
But I’ve come to a time when I’ve made a discipline of not noticing. Not noticing in the way I’m called to in the examen. It’s my discipline. To put aside my noticing. My ever-evaluating mind. To follow the steps of my routine. Mindlessly. Noticingly-less.
It’s a way, I’ve discovered, of learning to be absolutely passive. To not impose myself on my life any longer. To let the movements of the day determine who I am.
Notice your shortcomings.
I have worked hard, perhaps not consciously, perhaps the lifestyle has dictated the approach to absolute surrender to the lifestyle, to have even blessed events blend into the ordinary as though that’s where they belonged. Not as special occurrences. Just life. Just breath.
And I realize that, in the long run, I’m getting the discipline of discipline wrong. At least wrong in the eyes of God. Discipline, according to my visions, is the compassion (or love) to follow. Like the disciples followed Jesus. Compassion is for yourself, for others. Even a means of letting others care for you.
I’ve never quite gotten that.
To me, instead, discipline is the commitment to routine. To order. To letting go of making everything a challenge.
In ways I was now uncomfortable with, the examen challenged me. It challenged me to evaluate my day, my hours, my minutes. Which one was the worst? Which one was the best? For which series of instants am I grateful? What can I do better tomorrow?
Too much noticing. Too much temptation to let the seconds of my life compete with one another. You win. Blue ribbon to you. You lose. Try again tomorrow.
Not that long ago I listened to an article on the radio. It was about a baseball player. He had written a book. And before he began talking about his book, the interviewer talked about knowledge. How there’s knowledge that’s outside of you: like when a pitcher learns to pitch and concentrates on every move of every muscle in every pitch. And then it becomes inside knowledge. When you can stop thinking through your every action and just do it.
I think that is where I am in life. I know that that is where I am in life.
No more excruciating attendance to the anthills being constructed around me. I know they are there, and I know how to walk through them without noticing.
And that’s my accomplishment these days. Walking without straining to take everything in, under the impression that keeping watch will fill me with wonder and make me laugh.
An Ignatian reflection asked that one time: what made you laugh today? To know that would mean that I would have noticed. I would have had to have looked down, or over, or above. That one thing made me laugh, but another made me cry.
And, what, in the end, is the difference?
The children are grown. This is no longer a child’s birthday party where the difference between laughter and crying is significant.
This is a life of contemplation. A life where weeds flourish and bees are swatted down by passing cats in search of excitement.
One of these days, I’ll find a right way to pray at noontime.
And to find that rightness with be my challenge.
That I’ll try to keep secret.