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Calm, Open and Harmonious

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

The current stage of life I’m in is busy. I have four active kids in elementary and middle school. Daily I find myself driving them to practice, to track meets, to school activities. I work as a pastor in a new church setting in which I am the only staff person. Additionally, I work part-time for Shalem, supporting online courses, managing social media, and assisting with marketing. There are always things to be done. Work to-do lists. House to-do lists. Places to be. Boxes to check.

We also have two cats. Recently, in the midst of a frenzied day, I noticed Francis and Oliver, our two cats, lying on the floor, about five feet apart from each other. Both were stretched out about as long as they could be, totally relaxed. As I looked over at this blatant display of nonchalance, Francis yawned, just to rub it in.

In that moment, Francis—the cat—became an icon for me. It was a moment of grace. These feline friends had no worries. No stress. No sense of being in a hurry. Instead, they exuded calm, lived in the moment, and were entirely at peace with their world. I realized that I wanted what they had. Just seeing them like that helped me relax, and made me smile.

But surely it isn’t possible for human beings with full and busy lives to experience such rested contentedness, is it? We actually have responsibilities and people counting on us to accomplish things. Yet perhaps such peace is within our grasp. The Buddhist teacher Tarthang Tulku notes that meditative awareness has three primary qualities: calmness, openness, and harmony. I find such meditative awareness comes to me through my practice of contemplative prayer: sitting in silence with an open heart, or going for a walk in which I have no intention but to be present to God, the moment and my surroundings.

When I pray in this way, I can release whatever tensions have built up in my body: a calmness begins to set in. When I stop and slow down, I realize that anxiety or the harried sense that I should go-go-go, has made me physically tense. In this prayerful and open state, I can simply let go. I also receive a sense of openness about whatever responsibilities I have: there is time enough to do each thing, and no one of those things are bad—in fact they are each gifts that I am able to participate in, and even if I left one undone, the world would not end.

This is a perspective I cannot achieve on my own. I need to open my heart to God in silence, and trust. And it is in such trust that I begin to feel a deep peace and harmony about my life, even in the midst of deadlines, busy schedules, and the demands of life. It is possible, with such contemplative practice, to be as calm, open, and harmonious as a cat without a care in the world—and even get a few things done in the process. It turns out my cats were my contemplative muses: reminding me that each moment is a gift. I almost feel a yawn coming on.

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