I have often commented that the key to a discipline such as writing one of these daily inspirational reflections is to pay attention. That sounds so simple---and it is---but it is not always easy. I am always amazed by how easy it is for me to go through my life on autopilot. Having a number of routines in my life makes autopilot very easy. Like many people, I’m sure, my daily routine does not vary much. Coffee and newspaper in the morning. Meals are about the same time. I tend to see the same people on a regular basis. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but it does make living on autopilot very easy.
I like variation and variety. And I do have some of that in my life. And I know that it is much easier to pay attention to things when I am engaged in something different. For example, when I drive the same route day after day, it does not call for much attentiveness to get from point A to B. But if I am driving to some new place, I need to be attentive. I have to take the right roads, make the correct turns, and be alert to the way to my destination. I would argue that following the spiritual path is comparable to this.
After we practice some spiritual discipline for a while, it is easy for things to become routine. That is one thing that fascinates me about my friends, the monks. Some of the older ones have recited the same Psalms for decades now. They have prayed the same prayers that it makes me wonder how they can still be fresh? How do they pay attention when the way is so well known and their path so well trod?
I am not in the same place as those grizzled old monks. In many ways I still feel like a beginner---a spiritual rookie. I vacillate between youthful enthusiasm for a new “go” at prayer or some other discipline. Or I sometimes despair that I will ever “get into” this stuff like prayer or discipline. Spiritual rookies often find themselves starting over---again and again. But that is the key. When we have seen our zeal flag or when we actually have quit for the millionth time, the only thing to do is to begin again. We can begin again---begin right where we are and right as we are.
Not to re-engage a spiritual discipline again is to settle for having quit---for having given up. We can be sad or, even, mad that we quit and went autopilot, but the bottom line is, it’s over, unless we begin again. I am sure there are many reasons people give up on the spiritual journey. Let’s look at a few of these.
One reason folks give up is the simple fact that our hearts are not in it. People begin the spiritual journey for many reasons. But I am confident if our hearts are not in it, it will become virtually impossible to sustain a discipline. We may even feel like we need to pursue things, but I always say there is not enough energy in the “should” to keep us going. For example, people who feel like they “should” stop smoking seldom are able to pull it off. There is not enough energy in “should.”
Another reason folks give up the spiritual discipline is they get distracted. Discipline and distraction work at odds. Discipline asks for focus and distraction obliterates focus. And of course, we live in an increasingly distracting culture. Televisions going, while the computer whizzes, and the cell phone is beeping messages are part of too many lives. And maybe the radio in the background entertains someone else making noises in far corners of the house. Really! Try focusing in this environment that is normal for too many of us!
There are many other ways for us to lose attentiveness on our spiritual discipline and our spiritual pilgrimage through our life. Once we have lost that attentiveness, all we can do is recover it. In fact, I do not really think we can go through life and never lose our focus or our attentiveness to the spiritual journey. Instead what we can do is get better at catching ourselves when we have wandered or squandered our journey. We can minimize the time spent in alienating places. We can learn to “check in” to our commitment and journey to make sure we are on track. And if we discover that we have wandered away, we can get back on board.
I have found that I need a way to monitor whether I am on autopilot. One of these ways is what I call “awareness check.” I know that I cannot pay attention if I am not aware. And I know that autopilot is a form of unawareness. The crazy thing about autopilot is I can be unaware and still get things done! So I need an awareness check.
The awareness check is simple. I stop in the moment and ask myself if I know what I have been doing or thinking? Am I aware of what’s going on in the moment? If not, I have been on autopilot.
I don’t think God deals with autopilots. God only deals with pilots! And so I want to be aware and be attentive as a pilot. I am the pilot of my own life and I want God to fly along with me. That can and will happen, unless I go off on my own course. When I do that, I want to begin again.