‘I did not wish to live what was not life; living is so dear…. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”
Henry David Thoreau
‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls…’
I love the Thoreau quote that I first heard from Mr. Keating, the inspirational teacher, in the film Dead Poets Society: ‘I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life’. I’d love to show that kind of determination and focus in how I live my own life.
Recently, however, I’ve begun to ask myself what ‘living deep’ might actually look like. Our daily lives, when all is plain sailing, can be described by lots of adjectives such as: full, exciting, enjoyable, productive, successful, entertaining or just busy. But how often do we look back at our day as we switch out the light and use words like: fulfilling, meaningful, joyful or richly satisfying? How ‘deep’ are our days?
Things or commodities?
Mark Powley in his book Consumer Detox encourages us to think in terms of shallow and deep living. Commenting on the thinking of Alfred Borgmann, he points out the difference between ‘things’ and ‘commodities’. He writes: ‘a thing has a commanding presence. It is deep, rich, sensuous, and real. A commodity is much less substantial. It is shallow, push button, undemanding, throwaway… Instead of a deep world of satisfying engagement, we end up with a shallow world of disposable stuff’.
A real fire would be a thing: a radiator a commodity. Climbing a mountain, cooking a meal, walking through a meadow, playing an instrument, working with wood; all these require connection with a real ‘thing’. TV, pre-recorded music, most modern transport, nearly everything you might do on a smart phone; all these fail to connect us deeply to what really makes us human. We may not be able to imagine life without them but we must not be surprised when they leave us feeling dissatisfied and disconnected.
How deep was your day?
When we look at a typical workday it is remarkably easy to fail to connect deeply with people or ‘things’ let alone God. Even in face-to-face meetings we rarely engage with the attendees as persons, only as a means to achieve an end. Throughout the day we may rarely encounter a real ‘thing’ let alone connect with it.
When we get to the end of our day we may have met some of our goals but any feeling of achievement doesn’t often translate into a sense of fulfillment: We haven’t lived deeply by connecting to anything with depth or substance.
In the evening as we discuss the day with our partner, maybe we could encourage them to ask; “How deep was your day?”. If single we could ask it of ourselves. If the answer to this question is, all too frequently, ‘not very’, that may be an invitation to look at our lives more closely. What would living deeply look like and what changes can we put in place to get there.
Living deeply in the day-to-day
Many of us have lives that do not lend themselves to living and connecting deeply. Our jobs may be all consuming, intensely micro-managed or too pressurized to find any breathing space. Home life can be no less intense especially for carers and parents.
To get us thinking outside the box, here are some habits I’ve found useful, especially for those of us caught up in the whirlwind of a busy life:
- Set the alarm 15 minutes earlier than you need to. Before starting your day sit in a chair and try not to leave it until you are aware of two things: that God is with you and that He loves you.
- Include some simple, unprocessed food in your meals. Peel a real apple or orange and eat it slowly.
- Say ‘grace’ before or after eating. Thus we connect both heavenwards and earthwards.
- Is it possible to avoid eating alone and working lunches? For some of us it may be possible to make eating a ‘sacramental space’, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
- Maximize the time spent with your feet walking on soft earth and your lungs breathing in fresh air as you go about your day. Try getting off public transport a stop or two earlier perhaps?
- Invest any moments of downtime with the discipline of silence. Resist the temptation to reach for the smartphone! Use these moments instead to reconnect with God’s love and presence. Restrooms can become holy places with a bit of imagination!
- Use the first few minutes of a meeting- real or virtual- to engage with attendees. Ask them about themselves and listen to the answers.
- Is it possible to structure your workday to avoid long periods without face-to-face human interaction? Can you pick up a phone every so often rather than just sending texts or emails?
- If you’ve got a garden or even a window box, can you establish a daily or weekly rhythm of digging and planting? To take care of the earth is to take care of your soul.
- How about making something useful or creative with your hands instead of reaching for the TV remote or phone
- Try to end the day well. Let your last half-hour awake be filled with deep connections with things and people…
‘Carpe diem… seize the day, make your lives extraordinary’, urges Mr Keating in Dead Poets Society. All around us people are ‘seizing the day’ in the attempt to ‘live life to the max’. But cramming more and more experiences, entertainments and even accomplishments into our lives only leaves us feeling exhausted and disillusioned.
We are deeply relational beings, made in the image of a relational God who exists eternally in deep connection and intimacy within the Trinity.
Let’s show the world what an extraordinary life really looks like; that the truly remarkable life can only be experienced in a deepening connection with our neighbour, our world and our God