Saturday, March 08, 2008

How to Close a Door

I read somewhere recently about a person who purposely tried to exercise patience in a parking lot. He waited for pedestrians to cross at the Walmart entrance. He let people turn left in front of him. He let someone take a parking space. And it was hard, even for ten minutes in a parking lot. It was an exercise in "living on purpose" rather than living according to habitual obliviousness to our passions and lack of virtue. The lesson was self awareness is a difficult spiritual discipline.

I recall about 30 years ago determining to live every moment of my life "on purpose", even to the discipline of how I walk when going somewhere. Since I've become Orthodox, I read that to live "in the present moment" and be totally aware of everything around us and our relationship to it is called one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines by the desert Fathers. I recall reading a Monk who said it took him a year to learn how to close a door at the monastery.

We are distracted by the past and future so easily... and not even the "distant future". We are going shopping, so we need to get there. We need to park close to the door, and soon. The "goal" supercedes the people we encounter even in such a mundane and ordinary experience as parking our car. It seems most of our life is lived in the past, the distant future or the immediate future, but seldom in the present moment.

One very simple and daily action that is a manifestation of our obliviousness to our surroundings is how we close a door. Some 30 years ago, I listened to my house. No matter what was going on, doors slammed shut, drawers in the kitchen slammed closed and the silverware rattled. Car doors rocked the car when pushed closed. Cabinet doors banged shut. I started being aware of my body, the force I used to close things and set things down, the quiet of the night, the peace of the house and the noise I created. When people were sleeping or on the phone or watching TV, I began to close the doors by turning the knob, pulling the door int0 place quietly and releasing the knob silently when the door was closed instead of the "slam, bang and click" we normally hear. I closed drawers and cabinet doors pushing them quietly into place. I didn't drop and slam dishes and pots and pans into the sink or on the countertops, but placed them there deliberately. At dinner I put down my cups and glasses and silverware deliberately rather than dropping them with a bang and clatter. These seemingly minor exercises translated into heightened awareness of the immediate moment. Ideally, the goal is that every second of my existence is gracefully "on purpose", with total awareness of what I am doing, who is in front of me, how I exist. I deal with reality as it is happening, not the reality I am thinking is in the near or far future, not the reality that lies behind me that has "conditioned me" to react in certain ways. Every movement, every event, more importantly, every person is a gift of God and to be accepted and reacted to with grace, peace and joy.

On the eve of Forgiveness Vespers, I think of all the relationships I have and the offenses I've y given by lack of attentiveness, the offenses I've taken because of my past baggage, the relationships that are tense and shallow because of resentments and living in the past and fear of the future. I thank God that He deals with me in the present moment. He forgives without resentment of the past. He loves without fear of the future. Every moment is a present reality and nothing is accidental, unconciously done, or without awareness.

May I always be faithful in the small, seemingly meaningless and inconspicuous things of my life. May I always live in full awareness, in absolute conciousness of everything that surrounds me. May the closing of a door, the setting down of a cup be a manifestation of grace, an act of peace and consideration, a silent witness to the awakening of my heart to the fullness of the relationship I have to all things.


Anonymous said...

I can't tell you how much I appreciate this post---I even read it out loud to my wife who said, "How Montessori!" (she's training to be a Montessori teacher). This isn't surprising, seeing as Montessori held a sacramental worldview being a Roman Catholic. Apparently, the first lessons for people training to be a Montessori teacher are 1) learning to walk and 2) how to close a door (for the sake of the children learning by emulating).

Anyway, thank you for this. I'll take it as encouragement and a challenge.

Mimi said...

This is very beautiful and a good reminder. With the radio off at the office, I've been noticing a lot of the sounds that I usually miss.

Forgive me, my brother.

Athanasia said...

I remember reading this too and being struck by the responses of others. Of late I have deliberately been trying to practice patience and not be in a hurry to do everything, be everywhere. I am not a patient person by any stretch of the imagination. But what is happening is I am noticing an minimal increase in my patience and therefore have a moment more to listen to the impatience of others in my own home. It has helped drive the lesson home to me in an even greater way.

Blessed journey to Pascha Brother.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Great post, Steve!

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Unknown said...

So helpful to an absent-minded Orhodox teacher in Russia (that's me), so often lost in the past or future, not estimating the value of the Present Moment...Thank you,brother!