Life, like Bento, is full of “things.”

Bento (弁当, bentō?)[1] is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container.

The problem with Bento, the way I see it,  is that it is all packed in there together, sometimes so freakin’ tightly, you don’t really know what you have. You get a “sense” of what you have – you can smell the sweetness of the rice and the tartness of the pickled side. You know, that what is in there is good, but it becomes overwhelming. Sometimes you don’t know where to stick the chopsticks. Sometimes you wish you could just pull it all out and enjoy those pieces of vegetable sushi separately.

Sometimes, in life, there are so many things, that they all become cramped together in a giant mess. Individually, they are inspiring, precious, valuable, beautiful and tasty. But cramped together, shoved into a small space or small time frame, they run together. The flavors, colors, feelings and value mush together into something like a big lump. This can make us feel, oh, I don’t know, overwhelmed, confused, anxious, frustrated, and perhaps maybe even a little like packing a bag and running for the hills (of New Mexico, perhaps?).

I think this is where mid-life crisis and nervous break downs find their genesis.

A funny thing happens when you make room in your life, if you are not diligent, all kinds of “things” will infiltrate it.  Suddenly, you have space for all the things that you have always wanted to do and suddenly 100 things will show up at your door, or fall out of your closet or be created on a Saturday morning. And then suddenly, the week has passed, the weekend has passed, four years have passed and you haven’t finished, started, or even planned how to move forward with any of your big plans.

Have you ever noticed that when you clean out your closet, garage or car, if you are not vigilant, “stuff” will just find its way back in to the clear space?

Life is like that.

You clear the space in your life,  you release commitments, take a simpler job and streamline workloads. But over time, the time that you thought you would have is now replaced by new commitments, more job responsibilities and additional tasks that you never remember signing up to do in the first place. Suddenly, your life is crammed full of sticky rice, pickled seaweed and sushi and you don’t remember ordering.

This is where I stood going into this week. I was frustrated because I could not find the time to write Just South of Zen. I had a million witty anecdotes to share and a variety of fascinating observations, but damn if I couldn’t open up the laptop, surf on over to WordPress and put them all down into the English language via a computer keyboard. Why? Oh, I don’t know, there was fifth grade homework to do, dinner to cook, bathroom counters to clean, cookies to bake, errands to run, closets to clean, dressers to dust, dreams to ponder and minds to lose.

It was all crammed haphazardly into my little time and space and everything, I mean EVERY THING, seemed like it needed to be done at that moment.

It was all this weird Bento box of “have to-dos” versus “wanting to-dos” versus “my spirit really NEEDS to do this to feel good and whole.”

I stood over all of it with my mental chopsticks trying to pick the things I knew would bring me peace once they were done. But they were all thrown together and it became so overwhelming that I threw my hands into the air.

It’s hard to be in the present when there is so much demanding your attention and pulling your energy in 20 different directions. And the more we put these things off and the more we sacrifice the things and activities that nourish our souls for “busy” things, the more our energy diminishes. Then you find yourself on a crazy hamster wheel and the days start to run together and the idea of being present and in the moment is limited to the quiet drive home from work.

Recognizing what is important to us and making time for it is as important as breathing.

As adults, we have a myriad of responsibilities to other people throughout the day. We have bosses that demand our time and energy, we have households that need our leadership to function, we have children that we long to spend time with. But, nurturing ourselves in life is quite like being on a plane when the oxygen mask drops. We are advised to put the mask on ourselves FIRST and then tend to those around us that may need assistance. We are of no use to those we love if we are passed out in the aisle with the mask dangling over us because we were trying to help them first.

Maybe the time we need to take is 20 minutes in the morning to do yoga stretches or perhaps to journal. Maybe it’s an hour after the household is asleep to paint or draw. Maybe it’s in the wee hours of the morning before anyone is awake to make a cup of coffee and to write poetry or work on the novel that is sitting unfinished on our computer. Maybe its just time to sit and read a good novel or write a letter to a friend. Maybe it’s doing nothing in particular but just sitting with ourselves in a quiet space  and reconnecting with our center.

Whatever it is, the carpets can wait to be cleaned and even though there is a ton of crap falling out of the closet – it’s not going anywhere – it can wait as well. Put it on a list of things to accomplish and get to it in a timely manner. But take the time to nurture your spirit every day.

That way when you do approach the closet, the refrigerator, the laundry or the three dozen cupcakes you have to bake for your child’s class, you will be energized from a spirit level, centered and in the moment.

Things will seem brighter and lighter.

But most importantly, you will be able to pick out the things in your own Bento box of life and savor them as they are meant to be savored  – in the present moment, one at a time.