Visiting Robert Tolz in his home in Ossining, New York, is always an adventure. His wife, Delia, and he are raising two lively sons, Jesse and Elliott, and their house is a menagerie of marine invertebrates, frogs, guinea pigs and, of course, the family dog. The view from the living room reveals the Hudson River, and the beautiful changing landscape of the colorful New York seasons.
We met with Bob in the summer of 1997 to talk with him about his family, his work and living a spiritual ideal.
The management of time is a pressing issue for almost everyone. What advice would you give to someone like yourself, with family and career, who wants to live a spiritual ideal?
When time is pressing, as it is for most people, it's necessary to prioritize. Ask yourself what is truly important and requires you to spend time on it, and what is less important. Whenever I hear someone say, "I have no time for that," I know what they're really saying is that there are other things in their lives that have higher priority.
Time is obviously a precious commodity. We never have enough of it. There are many, many things that I'd love to do if I had the time, but my list is too long to be satisfied even if the earth magically slowed its rotation so there would be an extra hour or two in each day.
For this reason, I know that there are some things I'd like to do that will not be done, some capacities that I'd like to develop that will remain potentialities. My advice would be that it's necessary to determine what's on your list of things you need to pay attention to, and then set priorities for them. Those at the top of the list, such as my children, get first crack at my time. Those at the bottom may see periodic moments of my attention, but I have to resign myself to the fact that there are some things that I have on my list that I simply will not be able to do.
My family is, and will always remain, one of my top priorities. When I come home, my kids virtually "claim" me, and I give them undivided attention. But there are times when I simply cannot give them that time and attention. Sometimes the flow of work at my job necessitates that I give attention to a client through the late hours of the night, and I might not see my kids for a few days at a time.
My spiritual practice also maintains high priority, but its level of priority for the most part has an entirely different quality to it. That is, spiritual life is practiced at the same time as playing with my kids or while negotiating a contract. Spiritual life is not something separate and apart from all the other things I need to do; it's about the way I do all those other things.
Even the items at the very bottom of the list sometimes rise to the top. For instance, I used to envision that when I retired in a few decades and had more time I could explore my musical abilities. I was taken completely by surprise about a year ago when a melody came out of nowhere to grab hold of my mind and wouldn't let go until I gave birth to a complete song. That one was followed by two others. At this moment, there's very little percolating in my musical channels, so for all I know it may indeed be the day of my retirement that I start working on my next song.
Is there any time required for your spiritual practice which is different from, or in addition to, the time you spend on normal everyday living?
Yes. In Cafh, we practice a daily meditation, we meet in small groups on a regular basis, there are periodic retreats and there is time for personal spiritual direction. I usually meet several times a month with members of Cafh to serve in providing spiritual direction. So, the time I spend in spiritual practice, in addition to the normal activities of family and work, is not insignificant.
I don't ever recall feeling that these practices steal time away from something I'd rather be doing.
Since time is indeed precious, the offering of time is a way of offering oneself. To my mind, offering oneself is an absolutely essential component of spiritual consciousness.
Even if I were to spend a half hour in a meditation which I did poorly, with my mind wandering all over the place, the action of offering that half hour which I might otherwise have spent on a trifle has a spiritual consequence.