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

Resistance through mindful prayer

The news has been bleak; division in our country shows up on our social media site walls as well as in policies against immigration and inclusion that ramp up at a breakneck pace. Most of us are simply trying to live out our day-to-day lives, trying to extract meaning out of our conversations online and in person to help focus our concern.

Where do we put our hopes and trust? In whom do we trust? What does our future hold for us–all of us?

I’ve been meditating on prayers of resistance and finding solace in the voice of the prophets and saints who resisted oppression in similar as well as vastly different ways.

The main insight I want to share from those readings of those prayers is that prayer itself is resistance. Meditative and mindful prayers indeed are resistance; though it looks like you are doing nothing in mindfulness practice, a great deal is actually being accomplished.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, continual resistance is needed. Resistance to the patterns of this world: idolatry of money, of power, of even figureheads who claim to have it all figured out while their blind spots are apparent for all to see– resistance to shaming, blaming, and shoving out voices who differ greatly from one’s own is a path we can all find common ground.

We can resist all that by sitting in a quiet space. Connecting with God, with the person of Jesus, is resisting the values of this world. Being in His presence reminds us that we are all human, created in His image and for his purpose. Mindfulness practice builds capacity for a continual resistance that will sustain those on the frontline and those who support, and encourage those on the fronts.

Mindfulness practice reminds us that with God, all things are possible, so we do not turn away when setbacks happen. As they will most certainly happen. But so will progress.

Mindfulness practice transports us to the truth of reality that surpasses all understanding, which is that the victory is already won in the person of Jesus. That His death on the cross washed away our sins, individually and collectively. The arc of justice is His and is fair and is pure and good. We long for this.  Our Spirit groans in prayers of silence for what we cannot articulate.

When we enter into silence, we enter into His presence with a timeless God who has heard the callings from those who went before us for justice, the pleads for relief of suffering, the prayers of mercy for self and loved ones. He has heard those who carved the path of resistance that we each must individually and collectively decide to take, or not.

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…

Mindful Sipping

A short 10-minute mindfulness exercise today:

  • Begin with three deep breaths in and out.
  • Prepare a mug or cup of your favorite beverage. Tea is a great choice, of course!
  • Hold the cup in your hand. Feel its weight. Notice how your hands and fingers surround the cup.
  • Take a breath in and while still holding your cup, meditate on this scripture from John 4:14, “…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”
  • Next, drink the liquid and attend to the sensation of it going down your throat, filling your belly. Continue to breathe to help you stay mindful as you stay focused on this sensation.
  • Direct your mind back to the scripture while noticing your breath.
  • Contemplate and allow the scripture to sink in just as the liquid you have drunk is being absorbed by your body.

Aaaahhh….