When I first encountered Pascal's words, I felt like they were telling me, in a poetic way, to sit down and shut up, and that just felt, well... sort of rude. It also felt a bit insulting, in suggesting that for myself or for others, we bring a chunk of our suffering onto ourselves because we're too cowardly to sit quietly and face our thoughts and our feelings. Over time, however, the quote grew on me. I began to see its truth based on my own experience and from many years of listening to clients describe the pain that comes from not feeling connected to themselves.
Finding time to sit quietly in a room is no easy task for any of us. I know for myself, even before having kids, it was hard to find time for such non-activity. Life never seemed to lack things to do and so it never felt like a good idea to just sit in a room and do nothing for even a brief amount of time. Somehow, though, I found ways to carve out time for contemplative practices such as meditation, prayer, and yoga -- sensing and then experiencing their value.
During my decade of parenthood, I've sometimes felt like a character from a cartoon strip, especially when I find myself hushing those around me in my attempts to achieve a calm inner-state. I've come to laugh at myself in these moments, realizing how far I must be from achieving this desired state if I'm needing to quiet those around me in order to feel its precarious presence. I can still recall my first attempts at resurrecting a meditation practice after having children. I realized, even then, that I'd need to become less rigid in my ways -- that instead of waiting until I could find some Zen-like conditions of purity and simplicity, I'd be better off just plopping my bottom down in the middle of whatever room I was in, when any sort of brief opportunity arouse. It was clear to me that such moments were likely to be my only chance to still my thoughts and turn my attention within.
One afternoon, as I opened my eyes, I realized that I was encircled by a gathering of plastic dinosaurs, along with tiny action figures and a scattering of legos in various shapes and colors. I sighed, realizing that this was the new backdrop of my life, and that if I wanted to keep my spirituality alive, such efforts would need to occur right in the midst of this clutter and chaos. I also realized that if I was going to pursue any sort of quieting practice without losing my sanity or pushing away my family members with a constant chorus of "Shhhhh," I was going to need to see the derailment of my spiritual practice as being a part of my spiritual practice. Years later, I came to see the gift in this -- recognizing that my children had actually taught me more about flexibility than I had ever learned on my yoga mat.
Regardless of whether we have children or not, flexibility becomes an essential ingredient when our lives are busy. In part, it's essential because our busyness leaves us at higher risk for interruptions, and we must find some way to work with these inconveniences so that we don't give up entirely on our hopes of staying connected to ourselves. If Pascal's words carry any truth, then we busy people are probably the ones most likely to create just the sorts of problems that can arise from losing touch with ourselves. We're more prone to feel the confusion that comes from moving so quickly that we don't notice our gut sense of right and wrong, or our intuition about what needs to happen next.
Even if we only have a minute or two -- only time to take in three or four conscious breaths and listen within for a brief moment -- it's worth experimenting with how this can make a difference in the quality of our day. Try doing this while sitting in your chair, or if you feel so moved, push aside some of the kids' toys, the dog's bones, or the pile of laundry -- and sit down on the floor right in front of you. Experiment with Pascal's message for yourself.
This article has been published with permission. Karen Horneffer Ginter is co-founder of the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness and the author of 'Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life’s Just Too Much'.