You Need Not Do Anything

This past weekend, I attended a retreat to complete three years of training in the ministry of spiritual direction. For this week’s entries on Still Forming, I’ll be posting reflections gleaned from the retreat that made me think of you and this space throughout the weekend.

Today I’d like to reflect on the grace of being invited to simply be where you are. We were invited several times throughout the weekend into this kind of grace-filled space, and I couldn’t help but think of how important this kind of invitation really is.

For instance, half of the weekend retreat (Friday night through Saturday evening) was intended for silence. We met for periodic sessions as a group, during which time there was ready laughter and observations and sharing, but the rest of the time was offered as an invitation to experience silence.

We ate our meals together in silence, and we were given several blocks of time between sessions to simply explore the grounds, sit quietly in the gardens, pray and journal, or take a nap.

How often in our lives are we given such ample space to simply be still? 

But the retreat leader was keen to say that this invitation to silence was not meant to impose rigidity on us at all. “The world is noisy — have you noticed?” he asked. “Silence is not meant to be external to us. Ultimately, we are meant to discover what it means to be in silence in the midst of noise.”

The goal wasn’t silence for silence’s sake, in other words. If we needed to talk or connect during the time allocated to silence, then so be it. We had complete permission to use this weekend time set aside in the best way we saw fit.

I so appreciated that grace.

Then later in the weekend, we were offered these words from a poem by Franz Kafka:

You Need Not Do Anything

You need not do anything: you need not even leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You don’t even need to wait, just be still, quiet and solitary
and the world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked.
It has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

— Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

It struck me as slightly odd to be receiving such a gracious invitation to freedom from a man whose name is synonymous with a cockroach in my mind (Kafka is most famous for having written a book called The Metamorphosis), but I was deeply encouraged by the words of this poem when receiving them. 

You need not do anything. 

You can just sit at your table and listen. 

In fact, you need not even listen, if that’s too much to do. You can simply wait. 

In fact, you need not even wait. Just be still. 

The whole world will open to you in this stillness of the quiet.

Isn’t that encouraging?

To me, this is so much about dethroning expectations. We often think we’re expected to do this or do that, and it creates so much noise inside our heads that keep us from that true, still center, doesn’t it? But if we are invited to simply be where we need to be, all kinds of freedom opens up inside. Then we can get in touch with the truth of ourselves, our connection to God and the world around us, and the creativity our lives invite us to experience. 

Are you familiar with this kind of grace? Is it easy or difficult for you to dethrone expectations and sink into the truth of your heart? Is there any specific measure of freedom you need to receive in this moment? What is it like for you to experience the invitation to just be exactly where you are and need to be?