ear Miracles, Some of my favorite businesspeople – those who have been wildly successful in building their empires – say the same thing: if you aren’t moving ahead you are falling behind. Makes some sense, especially in today’s business environment.
The way this dictum gets worked out in a more prosaic way, however, is that busy-ness all by itself equals or leads to success. A rolling stone gathers no moss. It is as if by simply moving from one task to another, we will achieve what we want to achieve; but if we stop, we will languish and we will die.
There is a word for this motion in Newtonian physics: inertia. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Procrastination, I contend, is simply on the other side of same dead force, the same inertia. Simply being busy is, then, no real remedy for procrastination (and I think our beloved procrastinators feel this deeply.)
But as it concerns busy-ness, at the root of all this is a mode of life the sociologist Max Weber described in his classic Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This philosophy of action and business can make you a lot of money and help you accomplish a lot of deals; but by itself and as a philosophy of life, it tends to detach you from your friends, keep your children from knowing who you really are, and even, ironically, prevent you from doing the really hard work of your soul.
Action is not bad a thing. In so many we ways we need more effective action, which is in a way what all sacred arts are about. And you won’t find me crucifying the protestant work ethic; it is too much a part of my lineage and life to do so. It is very hard for me to stay still, and I am the sort of person that will work willingly and devotedly around the clock. If I lived in a perfect vacuum, all by myself, maybe I would.
But nature abhors a vacuum. I have come to recognize again and again, by those who bear witness to me, that busy-ness all by itself – only doing, only moving from one task to the next -misses a crucial ingredient in life, and those of us who live from a place of action alone or a place of rest alone can feel it. It’s a life not only without salt or savor or flavor, but without sustenance, without nourishment.
Intuitively we know this and our popular art depicts it quite clearly. The hero in the action movie, for example, never has a real and lasting romantic relationship – they can’t, because love requires something more than action alone, and action finds love, well, boring. Love requires the whole of who we are, as does wisdom, as does courage, peace, the best art, even real wealth. Why does it require the whole of who we are? Because it is the whole of us, and only the whole, that can respond most effectively to what is truly needed. The failure of workaholism and – on the other side – of procrastination are really failures to respond to what is genuinely needed – which is to say, a failure to allow the whole of us to come into play and into action.
So what is the solution? Something we rarely think about, because it is literally empty, and that is: space. To the degree that we want any of those goods in our life, community, relationships, and even knowledge, we have to look down at the roots of things, to the very spaces we create. Space is commodified all the time in our world – in the form of property and real estate – and it may seem like the most limited thing, like our time, but it is in fact the most abundant and powerful resource we have.
To see what I mean, I invite you to close your eyes. And then…imagine you are standing at the edge of mountain overlooking a great valley to the south which is shrouded in darkness. It is about an hour before dawn, a faint light is beginning to show on the Eastern horizon. A little bench for you to sit down upon and rest appears behind you. By the faint starlight, you sense movement to your left, and you spot what seems like a bushy tail disappearing behind a rock outcropping…
Wait. Stop. Where are you? You have taken one step into that realm of infinite space I call the sacred imagination
Now try it again – close your eyes. At first you may see nothing. What do you want to see or do there? Swim in the stars, in the drift of neutrinos, or the depths of the sea, or stand in the middle of grove of ancient redwoods? It is your call, and yours alone.
Do you recognize the working of this realm in your own daily life? If not, I invite you to look further into it. This is a place in which interior palaces and journeys can be built and made, which for magical and mystical figures like Giordano Bruno and St. Theresa of Avila is more than talk or more than a parlor trick – but can become a serious life practice that flows directly into all corners and aspects and spaces of daily life.
Every time we make and approach an altar, call upon our allies, light the candles, bless what needs blessing, we are creating space that goes beyond space, a time that goes beyond time. We are, as it were, bending space, molding it; amplifying, deepening and extending it. Space-creating is attraction magic at its finest because the best ideas, truest words, and most interesting experiences are never found on the schedule or in your planner. These are reserved for the in-between moments when you are catching your breath after a sudden squall of tears or folding up the laundry. You cannot schedule time for wonder or true insight, beauty, or passion; but you can create the spaces that give each of those virtues the real chance to appear and dance through your life.
They create the conditions for deep effective response to what is needed in your life, here and now. They will bless the spaces you have created and their appearance will encourage you to continue creating more.
How do we create space? We know what to do. We have to first of all be willing to do what is needed, no matter what form it takes. And that is hard. Sometimes it means that we need to sit quietly, for example, staring out of the window at the falling rain and the coursing wind while the candles burn down to their waxy stubs. Or it may mean that you have to be ok with the fact that the trip to the store is going to take an hour longer than you thought it would because you saw a neighbor or a friend losing it in the cereal aisle and now is not the time to walk on by, but the time to stop, place your hand on their heart, and listen no matter the cost in time.
There is no formula to know in advance what is needed at any given time. But our readiness, to give ourselves over to what is truly needed, is already to begin creating the space. Space is created and blessed at once when you put down the pen, put down the report, put down the computer and pick up the phone so that you can talk to your best girlfriend that you haven’t gotten to see all year, read a story to your child, throw the ball for your pup, or just let your cat stare at you disdainfully and maybe allow you the privilege of petting her – if you’re lucky.
Creating spaces is a courageous act because there is real fear in the process…fear that we are gathering moss, missing out, falling behind, failing and flailing. It is a scary thing to look at the list of goals you took so much painstaking time on and scrap them in one go, because you missed the most obvious ones: spend more time with the people that you love, get to know every tree in your front yard, take a few minutes to talk to the mockingbird that graces your morning with its song.
Blessed be the ones, therefore, who are willing to fall behind, be a little foolish, and even fail…and blessed be the spaces they can create. For they are the ones who, in truth, race ahead, not aimlessly, and not without direction, but with eyes and hearts set on true purpose and infinite promise.