A Reflection from the Annual Oblate Retreat
Written by Gwen Odney, OblSB
Thank you, Jessie Bazan, for assuring us that we were not meant to multi-task, among other stress relievers! Jessie, an oblate from St. Ben’s, was the leader of our annual oblate retreat Saturday, September 24. She not only gave us permission to slow down and breathe more often but gave us reasons why this would be good for us AND ideas (Benedictine!) to help us do it!
Referencing an intriguing book by Johann Hari, Stolen Focus, she highlighted our lack of focus (just 65 seconds at a time-max!) which is not just a personal issue, but one embedded in our systemic life as well. Our response? Take a walk, move somewhere and do some “mind wandering” for 15 minutes. Seek “monastic” silence. We were gifted with fifteen minutes to do as we wished—in silence. I took a walk, without a dog, which really made it my walk, my silence, my mind wandering. It was lovely.
She then continued with other issues stealing our focus: physical and mental exhaustion; speed and switching (the input of media, interruptions, the amount of screen time our brains are absorbing—3 hours, 15 minutes a day); and the lack of sleep negating bodily repair and refreshment, putting our body in “emergency mode.” We are not wired to multi-task, even though we think we are and pride ourselves on it. We are not able to process too much information coming in at one time! She quoted, “Slowness nurtures attention, speed shatters it.” Slow down to a monastic pace (Benedictine) when you are able, she said, and counter the speed. A good reminder to keep life in (Benedictine) balance: pray, work, study, with rest figured in to facilitate them. Of course, it is pretty much built into our culture of “capitalism” that we are made to accomplish. But it is in community where we find our grounding and priorities. As we finished our retreat, I felt very connected to our community and determined yet again to find the balance in my life that facilitates spiritual growth AND personal accomplishment.
Easier said than done, of course. I have realized that during the pandemic and even for part of this past summer, things did slow down, and I did too. I became a little lethargic with too much time on my hands. So as summer ended and fall loomed, I picked up the pace quite a bit, in all areas of life, and pretty soon I was feeling stretched, overwhelmed, and not excited about what I was doing!
I then took the time to find silence and listen to what the Holy Spirit was telling me—“Do those things that will have the greatest impact and let the rest go”. It became easier to say “no,” to some requests, to plan my days around those things of greater importance, and to make sure the list didn’t get too long. I’m thinking that just as we need to slow down to appreciate the present, slowing down too much isn’t really the answer, for me, at least, —then I lose focus and purpose as well. I still struggle with this almost every week even with planning. Balance is necessary, but not easily achieved.
I also found a very helpful phrase from the writer of my daily devotion book: “Lord, show me the life I am meant to live.” If I truly take the time for silence to listen to the Spirit’s voice, there is guidance. If I truly put my phone upside down on the counter and not look at it for a while, I’m not as distracted. If I truly get the number of hours of sleep my body needs, I feel a lot more alive. If I work too fast, I sometimes make mistakes, and do not get as much satisfaction from the project. As our Rule indicates, “we get up and fall down, and get up and fall down…” We need the Rule as well as an oblate’s reminder to slow down, take time, and breathe! So, thank you, Jessie Bazan AND St. Benedict!