My mindfulness “plan”

This blog post title is rather deceptive as the core of a mindfulness practice is the absence of making direct, linear goals when being mindful. True mindfulness is not about accomplishment or goal attainment. Rather, mindfulness practice is allowing the practice to take you to the spaces that you are unaware. As true in most things in life, the journey becomes more important than the end goal.

For instance, this summer I am challenged with large amounts of unstructured time. However, I have some real, hard and fast goals for myself this summer I need to prepare for my Fall class teaching schedule, I need to get some publications out, and I need to put a proposal together. In between, I have lots of plan to do some fun things with my 12 and 9 year old sons. We have some vacations planned, but I also have on my list: cooking with my sons, beach trips with friends, swimming, hiking/exploring, and celebrations with extended family.

I have tried to fit in my own wellness goals as well: continue mindfulness practice, vegetarian meals twice-a-week, visits to the doctor and dentist, assess nutritional goals, good skincare, some mild weight training, and yoga practice.

As a Christian mindfulness practitioner, I am aware of the competing theories of mindfulness: relax and let go, versus, let go and let God; do away with cravings versus living into what God may have me to do this summer; continue in the path towards enlightenment, versus, realize my human frailties as a sinner in need of a Savior (daily!)

What helps me settle into a summertime routine, where all my earthly and personal goals have the fighting chance to be accomplished, is to go into that quiet space where I can experience deep connectedness to God. God points me in the right direction, clarity of mind and purpose come in those silent moments of attention to Him, and noticing how my mind and body reacts to the Spirit’s call. Sometimes, His voice simply says, “you are good enough, just relax my child…let go”, it sometimes questions my motives, “are you doing all these things for my kingdom, or your futile one, my love?”, and, “stop striving, let me open those doors, assist you, trust in me for my yoke is easy and my burden light…”

Now, I have earthly responsibilities, don’t get me wrong, but mindfulness practice allows me to be more….well, just mindful about them. As I cook with my sons, I notice their little but growing hands–more mature in length and size than the last time we cooked together. I notice that my preparation for the Fall becomes about the students more than about my place in the classroom. I notice that I am shedding the selfish desires of these goals to a more outward focus.  The shift inside of my mind and Spirit is palpable.

Therefore, the obvious “plan” of mindfulness practice for me is to spend time in God’s gentle love and correction.  So my other plans this summer are open to discussion with Him–I give all plans up, I lay my burdens and my desires down at God’s feet and I sit in silence, in rest, and refreshment while on the journey. Tea&ToDo

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My TEDx Talk: Using mindfulness to deal with everyday pressures

I had the privilege to share some basics about mindfulness recently and hope you will enjoy. Click on the link to view: TEDx Azusa Pacific University

Tea and resilience

The process of preparing tea leaves ready to be enjoyed is a lesson in resilience. Tea leaves are plucked, then dried out, then oxidized, where the chemical composition of the leaves fundamentally change for its full flavors to be realized and then enjoyed*.

The care, time, and technique used in each step of the transformation of the tea leaf can be lessons for us in building resilience, which is defined here as “mental toughness through pliability”. Mindfulness practice builds our resilience muscle–a strengthening and stretching of the mind and heart.

Mindfulness stretches our minds because the silence and stillness helps us tune into our thoughts. We can hear our own voice, our thoughts, and re-align ourselves with our values in the silence. As Christians, we transcend the chatter of that voice of ours to begin to resist the pulling and tugs of temptations. Temptations such as: self-glorification, self-centeredness, self-comfort, are all challenged by the rigorous training by our Lord Jesus’ generosity,”the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

The rigorous preparation of the tea leaves generously gives a full-bodied flavor to the hot water they bathe in.  When we resist in our minds our self-absorbed chatter: “what will happen to me?”, “how can I get that raise?”, “why am I so misunderstood?” we give way to focus and attention towards the outer. God’s promise of the first becoming last comes true. What was so worrisome becomes so blasé and out of touch with life’s reality. We are here for a short time, we are but dust, and therefore our attention should turn to the work of the kingdom.

Mindfulness therefore stretches our hearts towards others. In the quiet space where we can thoughtfully and wholeheartedly relinquish our self interest to the throne of God, our hearts inform our mind. Like the tea leaves’ oxidation, we change our composition. Outward we begin to think, then feel, then behave. Our bank balance gives way to more giving, our time is more focused on people and relationships, our emails are points of connection, our workplaces, productive with purpose.

Ideally of course, these are the ultimate rewards of mindfulness practice. The practice of course, is just that, a practice..it is a worthwhile time devoted and dedicated to build that muscle of resilience that will stand the test of the age and its agenda.

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*Reference: Adagio teas: Tea class, lesson 06. Retrieved from http://www.teaclass.com/lesson_0106.html

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.)

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…