by anna blaedel
For the last few weeks, I’ve been beginning each day with a breath practice offered by Thich Nhat Hanh in his little book How to Sit. Bits of poetic wisdom, or gathas, recited on the inhale and exhale. “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” And, “Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, I know it is a wonderful moment.”
(I was sharing this practice with the students I chaplain when I learned of his death. Thay, as he was known by his students, lived an incredible life and left an incredible legacy. I bow in humble gratitude for his wisdom and teachings, still circulating and being practiced, among us.)
I committed to this intentional practice after my therapist reflected back how scattered I seem, less present to myself, less present…period. Exhaustion, grief, fear, overwhelm–so easily scattering and deflecting attention away from being, breathing, sitting, savoring. So, I am practicing, becoming more present to myself, my breath, the force of life pulsing through me and connecting me with everything else pulsing with aliveness.
“Sitting is a practice,” Nhat Hanh writes. “The kind of sitting we’re used to doing is sitting in order to work at our computers, to be in meetings, or to space out in front of a screen. So we have to practice sitting just to be with ourselves without distractions. In our time, in our civilization, sitting and doing nothing is considered either to be a luxury or a waste of time. But sitting can produce the most nourishing calm and joy and we can all afford some time to sit. How wonderful to sit and do nothing.”
So deeply resonant, the sacred invitation to sit, to breathe, to be.
How wonderful, to sit and do nothing.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if this activity is the axis on which the whole earth revolves. Live the moment. Only this actual moment is life,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh.
Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry teaches us that “rest is resistance.” Resting, napping, becoming useless to capitalism–these are the womanist foundations for sustained practices of liberation, and liberative being. Rabbi Elliot Kukla leans into this wisdom about the spiritual power of rest, particularly in a time of planetary crisis. “I have seen the limits of the grind,” they write in a recent NYT piece. “I want my child to learn how to be lazy.”
Kukla continues, “As the future becomes more tenuous, I want to teach my child to enjoy the planet right now. I want to teach him how to laze in the grass and watch the clouds without any artificially imposed sense of urgency. Many of the ways I have learned to live well in a chronically ill body–by taking the present moment slowly and gently, letting go of looking for certainty about the future, napping, dreaming, nurturing relationships and loving fiercely–are relevant for everyone living on this chronically ill planet.”
A beloved recently shared wisdom from a podcast they had heard, about it not being frivolous to write down what brings us joy and is life giving and to savor those things, to really be present to and with them. My list, from today:
- ginger root and honey tea steeping in my grandma’s teapot
- hot water bottles
- the front porch wind chime, singing through the frigid winter wind
- coming to know different kinds of wood by the smell of their sawdust
- sitting in the stillness of early morning dark
- rubbing lavender oil into my scalp
- meandering through hickory hill park in the snow
- observing my students practicing tenderness with each other
- a perfectly ripe avocado
- zoë keating’s cello music
- my beloved, warming their cold skin against my warm skin
- warming my cold skin against my beloved’s warm skin
- my little nephew–working so hard to string together words he is still learning–to ask when i’m coming to see him again
This not-frivolous practice of listing, of lazing in, what brings joy reminds me of Andrea Gibson’s list poem, “Things That Don’t Suck.” And Ross Gay’s gorgeous The Book of Delights, in which Gay records and shares a catelog of small, ordinary delights of being, so easy to overlook or rush past. Among the delights celebrated: loitering. Synonymous with lingering, loafing, lazing, lounging, lollygagging, dawdling, ambling, sauntering, meandering, puttering, dillydallying, and moseying. “Any one of these words, in the wrong frame of mind, might be considered critique or, nouned, epithet,” Gay writes. “All of these words to me imply having a nice day. They imply having the best day…”
Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, I know it is a wonderful moment.
May it be so. And, may you, and we, laze and be…
Rev. Anna Blaedel is theologian-in-residence at enfleshed. They bring an attentiveness to the intersections of academic, activist, and ecclesial engagement. Anna nourishes students through campus ministry for the University of Iowa Wesley Center and is enrolled in a PhD program in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division.