“Now that you’re here, be here”

November 19, 2010

A month ago, I, along with every other clergy person in the North Georgia Conference, had to take part in something called the “Bishop’s Day Apart” at the Simpsonwood retreat center. Bishop Watson plays host to these short retreats each year. The theme of this year’s gathering was clergy “self-care.” The United Methodist Church wants us clergy to take better care of ourselves—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I’m sure this emphasis on self-care comes in the wake of published studies that show that clergy suffer obesity, hypertension, and depression at rates higher than the overall population.

Most of us weren’t excited about spending a couple of days away from our churches or places of ministry in order to focus on self-care. In his opening remarks, the bishop likely sensed the mood of the room when he said, “I know that you are here today…” He paused. “Because I told you to be here.” Everyone laughed. “But now that you’re here, be here.”

“Now that you’re here, be here.” I like that. Ancient wisdom from a large number of religious traditions teaches us to be present in the moment, not to be distracted but to focus on the task at hand. Jesus captures a sense of this in the Sermon on the Mount when he gives us these challenging words: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34).

Now a recent study suggests that this ancient wisdom is exactly right: People are happier when they devote their full attention to what they’re doing at the moment. Daydreaming and mind-wandering is not merely a symptom but a cause of unhappiness. Distressingly, according the study, our minds wander about 47 percent of the time. One of the researchers, Dr. Daniel Gilbert, said, “I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren’t really there.”

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

“If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery,” Dr. Gilbert says, “they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

This news challenges me to think about the importance of getting my mind right as I cope with the challenges of my day. Surely St. Paul was onto something when he tells us in Romans 12:2 to be transformed through the “renewing of our minds.” One way we do this, of course, is through centering ourselves, beginning the day in prayer, meditation, and scripture reading.

Sadly, I think the Everly Brothers had it wrong when they sang this otherwise beautiful song.

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