Dancing with Urgency

images-1One of my favorite sayings is “Be bold, and mighty warriors will come to your aid.” But most of the time, we don’t  recognize our “warriors” when they actually appear. They may come in the form of a formal sermon; or a book; maybe a line from a song you hear as you’re driving to work; maybe advice from a wise friend. Warrior assistance is with us always; the trick is to be aware of it. So today,  just home from a Gracious Living Lifestyle retreat in Nicaragua, Seth Godin showed up as my personal warrior. And now, I take up my extended ruminations on the value of retreat because Seth Godin’s blog offered me exactly what I most need to hear this morning:

The why of urgent vs. important

You know you should be focusing on the long-term journey, on building out the facility, signing up new customers or finishing your dissertation.

But instead, there's a queue of urgent things, all justifiable, all requiring you and you alone to handle them. And so you do, pushing off the important in favor of the urgent.

Of course, everyone has this challenge, but some people manage to get past it. Even you, the last time you made a major move forward. Think about it--those urgencies from a few years ago: who's handling them now?

The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We're good at it. We didn't used to be, but we are now.

Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.

Now that you know why, you can dance with it.

I have done battle with urgency my entire life. It just may be the cause of virtually every form of suffering I’ve experienced. And there is no better time for my ego to give me an extra dose of urgency than right on the heels of a healing retreat. That’s the way growth works: first you experience what you need, then you get yet another dose of what you need to let go of. And so I feel the stickiness of urgency all around me this morning. This “stickiness” around habituated patterns is called shenpa in the Buddhist tradition. Shenpa is getting hooked into an old and familiar way of responding, even if that way has not proven to be useful.

A week on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua has happened to me. I rested deeply, moved mindfully, meditated often, ate well, listened to the ocean, watched astounding sunsets, conversed with fabulous people, and listened. I listened to the ocean’s constant roar; I listened to heart-felt stories; I listened every morning as the jungle came alive with bird songs I’ve never heard before. They began tuning their exotic instruments at 5:00 a.m., and by 5:30 the fowl orchestra reached peak performance. Loud, raucous, demanding, assertive—screaming their aliveness to the puny creatures who lay awakening beneath them. Tangled in dream-soaked sheets, I felt their visceral aliveness.

Seven days of retreat, and my heart is open, my mind is clear, my intentions ravenous. And still, stealthily, the urgency emerges: I want to be more, do more, have more, offer more. I want to align my heart and my head, my body with my spirit, my story with my soul. Yes, I want to gobble up life even more than before. . . and urgency sets in quickly when you want to gobble.

So I sit quietly, this first day home from a foreign world—foreign in so many ways, at so many levels—holding this urgency lightly. Just watch it, I tell myself. Do not resist.

This new behavior reveals evidence of small improvement: I am not perturbed by this shenpa, as I once would have been. I go easy on myself. I recall the Three Meditations on Dying that we pondered during our retreat, stated most succinctly by Pema Chödrön:

“Since death is certain, the time of death is uncertain, what is most important now?”

I make a list. What is most important now?

paint/draw/make marks read/study more, learn more, understand more be willing not to understand take notes/remember what is happening move mindfully eat healthfully clean the house order the closets get rid of stuff work in the garden/plant colorful flowers pay attention to friends be kind drop urgency know that all is well/remember it always accept the love that is all around me/ be deeply grateful for it accept what is right in front of me learn from what is right in front of me drop grasping and clinging embrace imperturbability be of benefit remember my divinity

It's a start.  And there's no rush.  All is well.

How about your list this glorious Sunday morning? Make one, then see what unique warriors come to your aid. Be assured they will arrive exactly when you need them.





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