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What the ancient spiritual gurus did when they were stressed or overtired

Today, I’d like to share a passage from a book I recently read. The book is Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle, S.J., which happens to be one of the most moving and powerful books I’ve ever read.

Boyle is Jesuit priest working with gang members in Los Angeles, where, despite working in desperate conditions (he’s had to bury over 150 young people, for example), he works with a contagious joy, compassion, and light humor.

At one point in the book, Boyle is reflecting on stress and over-tiredness largely brought on by chasing success -- or what most people believe success to be. When I read what Boyle wrote, something just kind of shifted, internally, for me, for the better. So, in the hope that it does the same for you, here’s what Boyle writes:

“It’s an essential tenet of Buddhism that we can begin to change the world by first changing how we look at the world. … Thich Nhat Hahn writes that ‘our true home is the present moment; the miracle is not to walk on water, the miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment.’
“The ancient Desert Fathers, when they were disconsolate and without hope, would repeat one word over as a kind of soothing mantra.
“And the word wasn’t ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’ or ‘love.’
“The word was ‘today.’
“’Today.’ It kept them where they needed to be.”
This central tenet of Buddhism and the Christian Desert Fathers is, as you may know, very consistent with what Jesus said:
Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
Or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases that part of Matthew 6,
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
When we are feeling stressed and overtired, too often we see our stress and overtiredness as a modern phenomenon, as if we human beings living today have somehow stumbled upon a new ailment. Or we see our stress and overtiredness as some sort of internal character flaw, as if something is fundamentally wrong with us.

And so the nice thing about this ancient wisdom -- live in the present moment, relieve yourself of the pressure you’re putting on yourself about tomorrow, and focus solely on the moment you are in, right now -- is that it serves as a corrective to chronocentrism (the belief that our age is somehow unique and special).

The other nice thing about this ancient wisdom -- live in the present moment, relieve yourself of the pressure you’re putting on yourself about tomorrow, and focus solely on the moment you are in, right now -- is that it can serve as a powerful antidote to stress while bringing renewed energy… as well as the same joy, compassion and light humor so abundant in Boyle’s life.


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