Struggling to be still
I remember once when Australia was being hit with several natural disasters at the same time, the talk was about how we need to be resilient in times of chaos. A lot of people critiqued this comment saying that it’s hard to be resilient as an individual when whole communities do not have the infrastructure for instance to be resilient. In other words, it’s not fair to tell an individual to be resilient if they are in a system that by nature, is designed to be the opposite of resilient.
I’ve thought about that a lot since. It’s not fair nor is it a solution to tell someone to be a particular way or to take a particular action if they are in a context that is wired to be contrary to that suggested course of action.
I’m finding it nearly impossible to be still, to pause, to practice contemplation in a society that is all about speed, efficiency, results, bright lights and noise. There is something in me that craves to be a contemplative- especially lately. I feel deeply that this is what the world needs in an age that is in crisis and increasingly sensing doom. We need more contemplation. I can say that I feel “called” to be a contemplative these days. There is something outside of me effectively calling me to be still, I am being called to sanity and to integrate all the compartmentalised identities that I carry within me. It’s a call to become whole again.
Yet everything in my world is structured for the opposite of this.
At first I simply tried to go against the prevailing culture by individually practicing typical disciplines that facilitate contemplation. But I have almost given up as my individual efforts get crowded out by the frenzy that is embedded in my world. I began to feel like a failure as I read books and spoke with people who encouraged me to put into practice habits that would help me to slow down and become this contemplative that I long to be. These practices are designed to curb my natural drive for action and mould me into a person who can be still and listen. So I am “putting up boundaries” around work and vocalising the need to regulate my life.
However, I feel like all of this individual effort will achieve very little if the systems and infrastructure around me do not change. It’s impossible to practice stillness, contemplation and reflection if your context is wired for results, speed and efficiency.
So instead of focusing on my need to slow down I’m going to focus on our institutions and society. I’m going to take a systems view. Systems, our society and institutions need to reshape themselves to slow down, pause and give space for reflection. If they truly want to see individuals thrive and become whole human beings they will need to restructure and become more human. And systems and institutions are going to need to believe that this is important. More important than any kind of mission we can accomplish. Because if we achieve our goals but we become sub-human in the process what is the point?
We need to support one another in this. When we see colleagues under pressure and showing signs of exhaustion, instead of telling them to “take a break”, let’s talk to the institution that needs to change to make sure that it is not wired to push people too hard. In our meetings, instead of launching straight into talk about mission, let’s pause and wait, and listen to one another first. Maybe we can even be silent like the Quaker tradition teaches us at the beginning of a meeting to “discern the Spirit”. Instead of talking let’s listen and practice “dadirri” as first nations people do.
The more we become contemplatives, the more we will realise that we cannot fix anything in our messed up world. That does not have to be a despairing thought or a move towards passivity but it is a liberating internal posture that we take with us as we go out to engage in our mission and activity in the world.
Karina Kreminski is the Mission Facilitation Consultant for the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT and the founder of Neighbourhood Matters. This peice is republished from Karina Kreminski’s blog This Wild and Precious Life