My friend, Kevin Sweeney, recently said something very profound. “Spirituality is not about adding things to your life, it is about taking things away.” I love this. I have been thinking about it for awhile now. True spirituality is the art of subtraction.
At our church I am working though a series of talks about the Art of Subtraction. We are taking each week to talk about one thing that we can remove from our lives in order to experience the resurrection life that Jesus offers and anxiety is one of those things.
Anxiety is one of the primary realities that we live in today as a culture. It varies in forms, but what I have found is that for many of us, there are forces at play in our lives that leave us in a sort of low grade anxiety at all times. I have florescent lights in my kitchen and when you turn them on, a low but intense buzzing becomes audible. You notice it at first, but quickly it fades into the background- always buzzing and anxious, but never in the front of your mind. When I turn the lights off it is almost shocking how I let down internally.
There are many forces at play on us all the time creating that low grade anxious buzz in the background of our lives:
Busyness– We live in a cultural expectation of busyness in North America and especially in Southern California where Jen and I live. Overcommitment, hurry, overly-full calendars, children’s sports, excess work required to keep up with the high cost of living, the general pace of life, advanced connecting technology for work and play are just a few of the realities creating busyness.
Distraction– We live in one of the most distracted times our world has ever known. As a result we live in a constant barrage of over connection, over comparison, and over stimulation. Most people I know carry super computer “devices” in our pockets at all times connecting us to the rest of the world. The very devices that were meant to simplify our lives and make them easier have become the very things that take more time away from us.
Obligation– Many of us don’t act from a centered determined self according to the great “yes” of our lives. Rather we often do things because we are supposed to, or because others want us to, or because of some form of legalism, or because that is what everyone else is doing. This happens in work, play, with our finances, relationships, faith and spirituality, school, and fashion. We often gauge our life and decisions off of what others are doing or to please others or to live up to others expectations. This creates an obligated life.
Worry– And then there is just general worry. Often we fixate on things we cannot effect. At other times we give our head space and energy to the future or things that happened in the past or situations in the present beyond our control. This takes up serious internal bandwidth and keeps us from being present in the now and creates a significant amount of unnecessary stress.
We are created to live from a calm, determined, and poised center. These forces knock us off balance and create a spinning and disorientation within us- an imbalance and anxiety from which we live. We either react to others’ spinning centers or project our own onto everything we encounter throughout the day.
It reminds me of that off-center Spinny-Bucket playground toy. It is designed to hold you in the bucket and spin in such a way that no matter how hard you try to get out it just spins faster! Your struggle is the engine that speeds it up.
What is crazy is that when we begin to feel this way, in an attempt to get out of the spinny-bucket cycle, we often kick it up to a higher speed. We add more or binge more, or get more distracted, or do more or try to please more in an attempt to find contentment and it only speeds the bucket up. It is like this YouTube video of a group of friends putting a motorcycle tire to a merry go round [CLICK TO SEE VIDEO]. We can end up ejected out of the bucket and burned out or exhausted or hurt.
Adding more doesn’t help.
What we need is to stop…and be still.
Psalm 46:10-11 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
BE STILL– Are there times in your life where you regularly disconnect, turn it all off, say no, unplug, slow down, release the future and the past and all that you cannot control and simply stop? Are there places you go where you can simply be still and know?
In order to live in the midst of the pressing forces and anxieties of our present day spinny-bucket world, we have to be able to remove ourselves to stop the bucket and stop.
Several things happen to us when we are still:
1- WE CAN BREATHE DEEP. When we stop we can breathe deep and experience the renewed sense of life and spirit and energy that comes with it. This is true both physically and spiritually. Ninety percent of our energy comes from our breath. Breathing drives our nervous system and controls our heart rate delivering oxygen to our body. On average humans have a full six liter lung capacity, but most of us barely use two. Which means we regularly miss out on two-thirds of the energy available to us.
A friend of mine is a Cross-Fit competitor and she says that her body regularly stays in a very acidic state due to the high intensity of her work-out regimen. She began doing targeted deep breathing exercises and discovered that it actually releases the acidic toxins through her CO2 and she can measure the alkaline changes in her PH system as a result. She is learning to breathe out the acid from her body!
This is true spiritually as well. Breathe deep. Breathe deep and connect with the living God. Breathe spirit in and anxiety out. Jesus calls this abiding with him.
2- WE CAN RE-CENTER. When you are still and breathing deep, read Psalm 146 sometime. Remember how small you are in the scope of the big universe. Remember who you are and whose you are. Release control and simply be present to yourself in the presence of the Spirit of God. Remember the central yes of your life that drives you. Re-center your soul.
3- WE CAN RE-ORIENT. Read Matthew 6:25-34 sometime. Jesus speaks about the spinny-bucket life. He says seek first the kingdom of God. This simply means refocus and live from your center and your calling so that you can reprioritize your life and focus constantly according to the calling and vision you have. For us, this means reprioritizing our life around living the resurrection life of Jesus. This allows all of your life to prioritize and align with a non-anxious presence and focus. No more obligation. No more scatter.
When you can be still and know and when you can breathe deep, it actually allows you to navigate daily rhythms and the forces at work on us in a way that breathes life. We become masters of simply living well with a non-anxious presence, fully engaged and fully present. It is the most powerful and life giving way to live that I know.
I invite you to subtract the anxiety that is prevalent in our world so that you can enter into true life-giving rest.
What do you do to be still and know that He is God?
What do you do when things start to spin internally and don’t seem to be able to stop?
What regular rhythms do you have to keep it from spinning too fast? Would love to hear from you!