“When do you find time for your spiritual practice?”
I hear this all the time. It is a similar cadence when we ask people to go to the gym. The typical reply is, “I just can’t find the time.” This refrain rings hollow among those of us who are dedicated to either a spiritual life, a gym life, or both. We find time for what we truly want to do.
The mistake most of us make, is separating our practice from our daily minutia. We tell ourselves, we will do it after. It is always after—the dishes, the laundry, homework, the gym, work—and the list is never ending. Being mindful though is not about separating the two but instead learning to do what needs to be done, with clear and focused intent. We do it mindfully.
Comedian Chris Rock said, “We shouldn’t be offended when people don’t reply to our texts, people only have their phones in their hands 95 percent of the time.” Unlike our phones, we have our breath with us 100 percent of the time. Each breath, each step, each piece of folded laundry, or patiently scrubbed dish is a chance to be mindful and breathe.
We have hundreds of opportunities each day to engage in a spiritual practice. It may not be sitting on the cushion and a mala in hand with incense burning in front of our altar, but that is really all for show anyway. The true practice is being engaged. It is a lived practice, not a set aside practice.
There is of course a benefit from the ritualized process where we sit alone, in silence and engage our minds, but for the path to have meaning it must be with every step.
We are so used to multi-tasking, being split in half a dozen different directions that we all too often lose track of the moments we have to engage right here and now. Thich Nhat Hanh has told us over and over again, when you eat, just eat, when you walk, just walk, or when you wash the dishes, just wash the dishes. It is not the task that is important, it is the mind that is settled into itself that matters.
When I became a Mr. Mom, I hated doing the dishes. The sink was too low, it hurt my back and it was annoying. But now, several years later, washing the dishes has become little different than my sitting practice. I follow my hand as it turns on the water, as the sink fills and the bubbles begin to foam up the sides of the sink. I notice the warmth as the water touches my hands and the feeling of the brush on the dish as it scrubs back and forth, back and forth.
In those moments, I am not looking to rush away; to find a different or more enjoyable task. It has become a gift—a series of moments when I can stand still with my breathing and appreciate the simplicity of it. I have learned to take this feeling and apply it to other tasks that I didn’t like, from the simplest to the complex. I allow myself to be within the task as a participant in my own life and in my own breath.
Now I sit, coffee in hand. I slide my phone across the table and slowly breathe as the steam rises from my cup. I watch as the intricate swirls dance up higher and higher until they are no more. I taste the rich cream and mild bite of the bitter bean and I enjoy that moment.
And then I reply to the question when I am ready, “How do you not find time to practice?”