Disappointment and Triumph: how mindfulness can spur on the latter

2016 has been a year of triumphs and disappointments. The long political season and outcome of this year’s election has only heightened the anger, vitriol, and de-humanization that we experience in our online or offline communities. The division that is exposed in our shared humanity is the biggest disappointment. So is the violence and the lack of compassion for those who are fleeing violent regimes.

What to do when there is massive disappointment, disillusionment, or despair? Though there are no easy answers, I know deep down inside that the only sense of peace that is to come in 2017 needs to be something that I am actively a part to help create–to do my part in 2017.

Mindfulness, in all its benefits, should be a practice that ultimately leads to action for the sake of others, not just the self. Some criticize mindfulness practice as a self-centered, navel-gazing, and naive new age-y fad. This criticism is warranted as some of those who espouse mindfulness do so out of a sense of self-righteousness and shroud their own frailties under a veil of superior enlightenment.

As a Christian practicing mindfulness, the exact opposite should be true. The prophet Isaiah prophecies about the ONE who was to come, who ultimately came as a baby in a manger, whose family fled another violent regime to establish His kingdom on earth. The ONE came to proclaim the gospel for the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1-3).

The goal for the Christian practicing mindfulness is to “taste and see” that the Lord is good and to find refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8). From Him do we draw our strength to do good and proclaim freedom for the captives.

In 2017, let’s not forget those who are in captivity to the darkness of the world, who have not tasted and seen that God is good, and to use our mindfulness practice as a source of strength for the work–to draw from the well of God’s almighty goodness and to step into unknown territory.

May we step out in faith on behalf of those who are captive to the violence and captivity that our world’s powers succumb to over and over again. For our struggle is not in flesh and blood, but against the rulers…against the spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). May we claim God’s Holy peace as followers in His triumph and His alone.

Let His triumph lead us in 2017 to good works that God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Tasty tea

There is always something about a good cup of tea. Sweet, smooth, a rich bitterness balancing the sweet. The different notes of the tea leaves, the roasting process, the temperature of the boiled water –all the small but significant steps all add up to a lot of tastiness.

In mindfulness, there are also small but significant steps that help make your practice tasty and good. As humans, we are often creatures of habit, the consistency of where you sit and when you sit in mindful meditation can help create a sweet, smooth and rich time. I like to sit in two places: on the carpeted floor by my bed and then on the small couch in my office.

On stressful days I take time to sit in each place. Like roasting tea leaves, the first thoughts that bubble up in my mind are exposed wafting up and then like vapor, disappearing. I sit some more, allowing the simmering process to do its work. Its amazing what happens.

There may be a word that I know is from the divine. “Quiet”, “Together”, “Thank you” are themes of these times. I know that as I sit and create space for God to move, I am more connected with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. This time is tasty, blissful, peaceful.

The time flies by. My 10 or 15 minutes is up. I can attend to the day ahead. With scripture etched in my heart and mind and soul, with me being attuned to the presence of God (I know He is always there, I just need to remember!) the day ahead or the day’s end is full of flavor. Tasty tea.

img_3107

 

Being in God’s presence

Being is a concept in mindfulness that draws from Buddhist thought, particularly in the Mahayana tradition, whereby the person who is mindful, is not simply going through the motions of a practice, but is in full awareness of their personhood.

Being is therefore a lifestyle change and mindfulness is not a meditation that is focused on the self in a goal-oriented way, but submits to the truths contained in Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths.

Christians would say that the concept of being originates in the triune God. God is the great I AM who was at the beginning, is present with us now, and will be forever into eternity. Being is focused on God and understanding the power of God’s love in every aspect of our lives.

If we also believe that God  is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, then the power of His presence is something that Christians can trust and believe.

God knows the troubles, the cares and responsibilities we have and hold. So we can hold our attention to Him in our lives. He is with us, we just need to be aware and pay close attention to Him.

Try something today. Sit in a comfortable position, in a posture that respects the imago dei with eyes closed and then take three deep breaths in and out.

While breathing deeply and with full awareness of your breath, imagine for a moment that God is present with you now… Perhaps His hand is on your shoulder as you give your thoughts over to Him. Perhaps you are resting your head on His shoulder as you heave your stresses and worries over to him, like big weighted dumbbells that fall into His lap.

Perhaps you can picture your breath as a big puff of air entering your body. Receive it as a a gift of life, given to you by the divine. Picture the Christ, with soft eyes, looking at you, piercing your heart with radical acceptance of who you are, just as you are.

Breathe in deeply again.

Continue to use your breath as an anchoring point to remind you of his presence in your life. In your joy, your pain, your deep sorrow, your sense of pride and accomplishment. God is present at every turn so simply being means that you.

If you want to learn more about what it means to be a Christian practicing mindfulness, check out Dr. Roger Olson’s patheos blog.

 

 

 

 

Minding Stress Together (with mp3!)

Stress is bad for the heart and soul. For those of us who can’t seem to escape stress in our lives, we tend to choose three different ways to deal with stress: ignore it, push through it, or store it.

When we ignore stress, we ignore the healthy warning signals in our bodies. Those heart palpitations or kinks in our neck, that tightness in our chests and the rumblings of upset stomachs, together signal,”take care of me”, “time out! Relax! Rejuvenate!”, “pause! you’re going too fast, too strong”.

We also push through stress. We think that we, “just have to get over this one hump, and then relief will come. “If I just get through this project…” “Maybe if I just work really hard late tonight..” or, “I’m not sure this will end, but I don’t have a choice”.

We tend to store stress as well. In our bodies, like mentioned earlier, our muscles ache, we begin experiencing psychosomatic symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, heaviness in our chest, weight gain. During our yearly check-ups, we may find that those markers of health–blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels–together reflect the cumulative effects of stress in our lives.

Stress is something that is a natural part of life but it’s also important to recognize that we construct our own reality of what is stressful in our lives. Perhaps that reality is altogether off.

Leaning into God’s truth to assist us in truth-making by aligning our life goals to meaningful ones (to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves as well as our enemies) helps.  Inviting the power of His Spirit to assist us in addressing the objects of, or situations we are in, is often under-utilized. Seeking clarity in our relationship with Him by steeping in His presence–these are the tools of minding stress in our lives. We do it together with Him.

Stress comes and yes, stress can go. Those markers of our health tell us, remind us, urge us, to consider our limits. While it’s present, stress can help us realize that our whole system is in need of ways to deal. Realigning our thoughts, mindfully attending to our bodies, mind, spirit, become fruitful over time and with practice. Let’s tend to not let those three ways of dealing–ignore it, push through it, store it–be the actions we take. Let us, instead, deal with the objects and situations of our stress with intention, mindful of God’s presence as we seek realignment and as we seek understanding…together.

(I wanted to provide a practical element in this post to support you if you are considering, or are already making mindfulness a part of your journey.  The link here is a 30-minute module I have been working on, as part of my research on mindfulness framed in the Christian tradition (I do hope you may still find support in it even if you don’t identify as a Christian!). Please know that you will need to use Google Drive to open and then download the mp3 file in order to listen to it. Sorry about that! Tell me what you think about it if you try it and follow the instructions in the module and listen through the whole thing.)

The Mindful Working Mom

Each weekday has a set of challenges.

First, the busy mornings of rushing out the door requires that my kids and I are both dressed to face the world. Our bodies need to be fed with nutrient rich food (one of my continued commitments through this new year!) and our bags packed with appropriate tools. For mine: laptop, cellphone, good handcream, sunglasses. For the boys: books for in-class reading, pencils with lead and notebooks. The husband is lucky because he logs in, and instant work, voila…Like making a cup ‘o noodles–add hot water, eat up!

Second, after we have all gone our separate ways, emails are checked, social media is read for up-to-date national news and news of friends, of course. The mental checklist and to do’s are drafted either on paper (if I have a good pen and paper and a hot mug of tea beside me) or in my head. The day charges on–classes, student meetings, emails sent, pages written, laughter with colleagues, a meal…the afternoon comes on suddenly like that car that zooms past your blindspot when attempting a left turn.

In the afternoon I evaluate the day so far. What needs to be done before children need to be picked-up? Breathe in, connect with God and self to determine priorities here. I ask, “what are the last tasks, tweaks to the next week’s curriculum, ideas for the next day?” What are the corrections needed, plans that hold meaning ahead?” Mind clear, focus attuned, discernment hopefully reached…charge on, charge on, charge on.

Lastly, children are picked up, they are active on the playground burning off the energy that will allow them to focus on the homework ahead and the discipline needed for karate practice. Dinner is on, hubby is helping, eating together then soon the bedtimes and alone time with my life partner.

 

This is an ideal day, of course. But it’s also typical.  It’s hectic and busy, yes, but, it doesn’t have to feel this way. May I suggest…Breathe in. Ask for wisdom, read a meaningful passage, breathe out the worries of the day. Charge on…but WHY the charging on? For obvious reasons: the gift of life, the gratitude for another day together as a family, the health while I am still capable to accomplish these tasks, the opportunity for influence on younger folks who want to do good work for the kingdom.

 

DeskCupPic

For more reasons: the deep value of lifelong partnership, the smiles on the faces of those still-chubby faces, priorities that go beyond myself (I hope!) the limits of time. Breathe in, settle into quiet and rest.  Receive the feelings and experiences of being nourished and nurtured in mind-body-spirit. THEN, can I charge on, charge on charge on.

Fall

October is generally hell month for me in the Fall academic cycle. For me and my students it means that big papers are due and the time to dedicate to finishing, editing, revising, and submitting them is like sand through a sieve. I try to salvage what I can through moments of harried but focused concentration, catching little pieces before all spills to the ground, so to speak.

I am also much grumpier than usual (ask my husband!)  and can physically feel the tightness in my chest. My allergies go haywire even while medicated, my hair goes unbrushed as I fly out the door rushing toward the day ahead. Overwhelmed, keeping above water, breathing while pushing through–these are the feelings shown through my clenched jaw and tight shoulders.

Mindfulness practice is a resource that I should be accessing daily, deliberately and consistently. So, I’m writing this to re-commit myself to the practice because it has gone to the wayside. This summer, I dedicated days and hours to the practice. Gobs of time to sit, think, connect, contemplate…but that was summer and this is fall. That was then and this is now.

Seasons change, I realize, but that connection I felt, I experienced and the presence of the Presence is always with me.

I remember…

So, this fall season I will actually read the mindfulness practice resources that come through my inbox. Twenty minutes of Centering Prayer was recommended in the last instructive email I received. Centering Prayer for the morning time and evening. More structure helps me to not have to think of what to do next. I just follow the instruction and relax into the voice of the wise practitioner.

This is the season for following the Presence and may God expand the sacred time and space in our lives. If what I described is like your season, let’s try it together and help get each other through the Fall…

Making sense of living in the moment

Yesterday my boys started the school year again. It is the last first day of school at this particular one for my oldest. I get misty eyed when I think about how quickly he and his brother have grown up.

So, today I live in the moment. I feel sentimental about the days I gave birth to them; curious about what life will be like when they are all grown up and independent.

I re-read Rob Lowe’s excerpt from his book about his son leaving for college and it made me tear up quite a bit. He writes poignantly and straight from the heart.   I know those days are coming–my sons will leave the nest and venture into their lives. Though I have years until this happens, it is a reminder for me to savor the moments in our family’s day-to-day lives.

Choosing to live today’s moments mean I will stay mindful of the right now, right away, with right motives.

What I mean by this is that all we have is right now, and that’s a lot. They will come home and we will talk about the kids’ first week of school, we will move through the day preparing meals and spending time around the dinner table. These tiny moments of connection bind us together and I take snapshots in my mind so I can remember them–how little they are still in their seats, how they express themselves. Right now is the moment that I can breathe in.

Right away means that I don’t put off what is important to me and us as a family. Even though school has started we want to still check things off our summer bucket list. The list is a commitment to the kiddos that my hubby and I made to increase their life experiences and learning. Ensuring we make these plans right away holds us accountable when plans are so easily put off by competing responsibilities in life. So, we need to make room in our lives right away so we can expel our energies in the right direction.

Lastly, right motives are important in living in the moment. Childhood is fleeting, sure, but I know God has entrusted me with these two boys’ lives and I want their lives to be glorifying to Him, by the way they love and serve others. Aligning our moment-to-moment lives with right motives is an exercise of faith and the hope that we hold onto for our futures. Right motives allows us to regulate our family’s breath to the rhythms of life.