Back before the Internet, when my two sources of interruption were the mailman and the telephone, my computer functioned like a typewriter or notebook, singular in its purpose. I like to imagine that I could focus, settling down into a project, losing myself in creation and emerging hours later, but the truth is I grasped for distractions even then—a hangnail, lukewarm coffee in need of heating, the dirty laundry which might as well go into the washer because I wasn’t getting much done anyhow.
Prayer was no different. I imagined I could clear my thoughts, that I could enter silence like a vast, dark cavern and finally find some peace while really my mind was a first grade classroom where the teacher says, “Today we’ll learn to tell time,” and one kid raises his hand to say, “My brother got a watch for his birthday,” the next says, “I want a Lego set for my birthday,” and the third says, “Once I built a dragon with Legos.” I’ve been a guest author at women’s book group discussions that go about as well, and it’s no wonder. That’s how our brains work. Prayer back then was striving after quiet.
Today I know it’s hopeless. The best I’ll ever do is see myself thinking and let the thought go. This is what prayer looks like for me: Catch and release. The exercise would seem pointless if the microsecond of quiet following each release didn’t ripple out into the pond of my days.
I rise from prayer to my writing desk, where my tool now is also a portal into a vast world of information and virtual relationships and relentless communications—the ideal instrument for a grasping mind. When I focus, dipping into a place of attention and listening so that the house stills around me and I’m fully engaged in writing, there’s always this small, panicky self dashing around in search of a quick fix. An email in my in-box or an alert in Facebook says, “You’re important! You’re wanted! Attend here now!” and I do, with an ensuing rush of satisfaction. Here at my fingertips is a tool able to satisfy my every ego need. I can Google anything, including myself. When a question pops into my head I can find an immediate answer, with its ensuing boost. Oh, yes! I’m part of things. I’m not lost in an abyss. If I had a Smartphone I could have a hit anytime, which is why I don’t.
After a high like that, my writing project seems like a historical period I can’t time-travel back into, and prayer is worse, fruitless. For the Internet mind, creative writing and prayer are nothing; they don’t link or gratify or have measurable outcomes. The small, satiated self scorns erasure.
The true self, present from the start and identifiable in that microsecond of silence after I release a thought, knows better. So I turn off the Internet as my contemporary horsehair shirt—my practice of denial, at least for the duration of writing. The trouble is, I can’t turn off my Internet mind. So this is what prayer is like for me today, noticing my internal grasping distractions and repeatedly, lovingly, turning them off. Fleeting as that microsecond of release may be, it contains more life than the Internet ever will, and I trust it. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Check out Living Revision, now with the Nautilus Silver Award on the cover. I’m grateful to Nautilus for its mission “to celebrate and honor books that support conscious living & green values, high-level wellness, positive social change & social justice, and spiritual growth.” I’m especially pleased that the judges see these qualities in Living Revision.
Happy summer, all!