Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Efficient Mindful Living

Zondervan Publishing author, Phillip Yancey liberally footnotes his writing, giving the reader appetizing food for further thought. In Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference, he references a quote by Thomas Merton, another of my favorite authors.

When a journalist asked Thomas Merton to diagnose the leading spiritual disease of our time, the monk gave a curious one-word answer: efficiency. Why?  ‘From the monastery to the Pentagon, the plant has to run…and there is little time or energy left over after that to do anything else.’

Efficient: tight, productive, no waste, organized, economical.  My thesaurus adds resourceful, proficient, effective, ecologically aware.  What else would you add? Efficiency sounds good, right?

We walk efficiently with little wasted energy.  If I cut out a pattern, I always line the paper close to the edge of the material so there is little waste. The flaw in this efficiency is that I am left with one larger piece of unused material rather than two smaller ones stashed in a bin. You can’t just throw away good material. My husband’s garage displays organized clutter on the same principle.

With the onslaught of technical communications, we experience fewer moments of calm and more strangling measurements of our substance. Computers were going to turn us into a paperless society and we all know that was a myth. Social media connects us but also devours time before we become mindful of its passage.

Our children expend their youth thumbing video games on TV or their cell phones. As Merton points out, increased production comes at a price of our time and energy. Each  celebrated birthday presents us with a cake and the monster that jumps out is the question: am I the person I want to be? Have I accomplished everything I should?

Unfortunately, efficiency isn’t patient, kind, long suffering; it gets the job done. In a country club or church kitchen there is usually one efficient worker who sets the pace and decides how the congregational dinner will be served. (Caution: Do not get in her way.) At one time we worked with three merged congregations, and at the first funeral lunch there was confusion because each group had served fruit salad a different way. The women literally stood and looked at each other until one stepped forward with a solution for the day.

There is a myth of our culture that if we are efficient we will be productive. And if we are productive we will be fulfilled and content. Ergo, if we are not content, there must be something wrong with us.

Full bore productivity rarely works long term. Brain research shows multi-tasking is an illusion. When headaches or depression get our attention, we attempt to fix ourselves using the myriad self-help books available, because -- there must be something wrong.

Or, we search for contentment on vacations (I deserve it), recreational shopping for clothes and jewelry (I deserve it and its fun), signing our children into activities that fill every spare minute of their time (I didn’t have these opportunities and they deserve it), or, we numb our frustrations with food, drugs, alcohol. Pick your poison.

Efficiency has its place but unless we handle it carefully, deliberately appreciating economical movements and accomplishments, efficiency becomes the black knight crusading for achievement at any cost.
Efficiency becomes the opponent of mindfulness: deliberate working and contemplation throughout our day.

How do you evaluate efficiency in the context of mindful living?

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