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Spirituality Essay:

Adagio Moments    ( June 2010 )

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A recent report examined the survivors of the Titanic and the Lusitania - the two most famous ship-sinkings engraved in America's memory. On the Titanic (which took 3 hours to sink), the preponderance of survivors were women and children, while on the Lusitania (which went down in 15 minutes), the majority of survivors were men, and surprisingly married men.

Why this major disparity? Sociologists have surmised that the critical difference was the time it took for the boats to sink. With the extended time, the men on the Titanic were able to arrive at a more moral or, if you will, spiritual position.

Time. Something we view and live with in so many ways. For many of us, I think, it's most often felt and experienced as a finite, limited commodity ... why, at an unconscious level, we're likely to see it as something to 'make use of' ... to fill with accomplishments. Why, therefore, we multitask; why we get frustrated when things happen too slowly; why so much (too much?) of our attention is directed to the future rather than being more fully present in, and enjoying, the now.

But if you can, suppose for a moment that time were endless - suppose it wasn't fixed, measurable ... the underlying denominator of so much of life: how much we earn a year, how much we accomplished today, how much we've grown as an adult. Suppose time seemed more like the air we breathe - just there, all we ever need and always available ... something we'd give scant attention to.

How would we be different? The Lusitania and Titanic offer clues. Our nobler instincts and selves would probably emerge. With the luxury of more time, we'd likely find ourselves drifting out of a 'making things happen' modus into a more 'allowing things to happen' life. Our time-driven pressures to maximize our days would relax and we'd find our lives softly settling into a more natural flow with the universe.

Worth looking at is the subtle pressure of that 'making the best use of time' ... and how it can hold us back from our nobler spiritual selves.

We've all experienced that elusive, but wondrous, state when time seems to dissolve ... when what we're experiencing or doing feels so right and beautiful and natural that time seems to disappear (we don't notice it; afterwards we're surprised how much time actually passed). We, the moment, and the experience fuse, become one. And in those most exquisite of spiritual moments, we feel our essence intertwined with some greater 'all that is.'

There are many avenues to those spiritual 'highs,' but perhaps the easiest and simplest is artificially taking the 'time' element out of our lives. Just as time 'dissolves' when those deeply spiritual moments are happening, we can replicate the experience by merely removing time from the mix. How?... let time go limp ... extend it out to the point where it's no longer a factor, so only you and the experience exist. Take any activity you do and do it s-l-o-w-l-y. At least twice as long as normal. I like to call these adagio moments. Habitual activities like getting dressed, showering, and washing the dishes are especially suited for this spiritual exercise. Notice how 'accomplishing' disappears, and a mystical connection of oneness with the experience (the Zen Buddhist principle) takes over. Other activities this practice can be developed with are eating, walking (in nature), and touching things. And when feeling impatient (standing in line at Safeway), try pretending the delay doesn't matter, and settle instead into just being there fully with whatever that moment is offering. (And maybe listening to Barber's "Adagio for Strings" every so often ... .)

Watch how the deep connectedness from this spread sweetly into the rest of your day - more spiritual moments and your best self more present as 'accomplishing' and 'time' vacate center stage.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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