The eighth and ninth questions on the Matador’s list of “20 Questions for Every Spiritual Seeker” are:
8. What does it mean to live in the present moment?
9. What is our greatest distraction?
The first of these two questions seems deceptively easy to answer: to focus on yourself and those you’re with at that moment…no smart phone, no TV, no e-mail, no chores. I remember a story about a child trying to tell his mother something while she was cooking, multitasking as she often did. Several times the child asked, “Are you listening Mommy?”. “Yes” she replied each time. In frustration, the child finally blurted out “But you’re not listening with your eyes!”. That child captured for me the simplest definition of living in the moment: listening to what’s going on around and within us, not just with our ears, but also with our eyes and with our hearts.
The second question is more difficult to answer, not because it’s hard to find distractions, but exactly because they are so numerous. Which of so many candidates is our single greatest distraction? I no longer know what I did before my smartphone–it is such a necessary tool in my life. TV is a huge time waster. Work is way too easy to spend more time on that I should. Even the daily administrative tasks like housework, shopping, and paying bills rob us of quality time, of rest or with our loved ones. Does the house really need to be clean?
Which of these qualifies as our greatest distraction? Each of us is different, with different pressures in our lives and different distractions pulling us away sometimes from what’s really important. What’s the common denominator? I’d argue it’s us: it is too easy to focus on the daily grind of being us, instead of just being us. Why do we do that? Maybe it’s leftover hard-wiring from much of our history, where survival had to consume most of our energy. Or maybe it’s one of those reverse gifts, which are only gifts if we recognize them for what they are–obstacles placed in our way to give us something to overcome, something to provide a dark contrast to what’s truly important, the better to recognize what is. That’s our challenge, isn’t it? To sort through the chaff of life to find the wheat. I know I need to work on removing distractions from my head and from my life. I need to listen more often to my children with my eyes. Just like no one on their death bed ever wished they had spent more time at the office, I’m not going to be proud of the clutter which I allowed to interfere with what and who are important in my life.
“Action expresses priorities.” –Mahatma Gandhi