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.

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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.)

5 Ways Mindfulness Leads to Happiness

Happiness: the state of being happy; an experience of happiness.

HsiLaiTemple

It is a feeling that is often too fleeting. When we have it we want to keep it and make it linger in our heart and minds.  Can it be cultivated and created? Yes, the ancient traditions say… Happiness can be achieved by a consistent mindfulness practice. Here’s why:

1. Mindfulness connects us to an ancient practice that is tried and true and successful in the art of happiness. Christian orders, buddhist sanghas and others have been practicing and teaching mindfulness for centuries. You can see the peace, tranquility and calm on the faces of these monastic believers.  The monastic’s simple lifestyle paints a picture of calm reflection of what is necessary for life and happiness, which are basic. The benefits of mindfulness practices is that it helps us tune out the noise where happiness results from a life of the mind that is not distracted and pulled by materialistic desires. I call it, “cognitive asceticism.”  Happiness ensues when we focus on the gifts of the moment, not the weight of the world.

2.  Mindfulness allows us to tune in to who we are and confront negativity in life, releasing us and others from unhappiness. This past week, I learned about the power of a lojong slogan about confronting resentments for Buddhist followers. Lojong comes from Tibetan Buddhism, of the Mahayana (“big vehicle”) tradition. Training one’s mind toward letting go of resentments is based on effort within because we have everything we need in order to be enlightened, according to this belief system. For a Christian, the central truth is that our God is one of forgiveness. In Matthew 18:22, Peter asks how many times we should forgive someone who has wronged us, “up to seven times?” Jesus responds, “…up to seventy-times seven.”  Happiness comes when we can sit in mindful meditation, working on forgiveness–asking for it and receiving it.

3. Mindfulness provides a brain pause: The practice is an instant retreat from the busy thoughts inside our heads.  There is nothing to do but to focus on connecting with God.  At the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights (Where these pictures come from) as I sit in quiet mindfulness meditation in a simple room, happiness bubbles up. I use the time to focus on breath, as instructed, and center my thoughts on the compassion of Jesus.  It is a true treat to just have one thing on my mind.  My only job for that hour was just to meditate and connect. For the buddhist, the mind connection is to the prakrtri, the true buddha nature that resides in everyone and everything. For the Christian, like me, we can connect to the person of Jesus– transforming into His nature while giving mental and spiritual space to the Holy Spirit to work within.

4. Mindfulness allows scripture to sink deep within: I’m learing more about the dharma, particularly how mindfulness leads to moral behavior and right thinking, which then creates a rippling effect on the world. Dharma and mindfulness practice go together and Master Hsing Yun states, “The biggest reason people do not gain much from their [mindfulness] practice…is they do not properly balance practice and learning [of the dharma]”. (For background, I am studying under Mahayana schools of thought, particularly the Humanistic Buddhist tradition and Tibetan Buddhism).

This rings true for us as Christians as well. Sometimes we focus on scripture, but read it half-heartedly or with half our minds. I have re-connected with the practice of Lectio Divina, Latin for “divine reading”, which focuses on reading scriptures slowly, out loud and in meditation. The slow art of meditating on God’s word has opened them back up, allowing them to sink deeper, drawing on them for support and happiness amidst troubles.

5. Mindfulness leads to transcendence, which are the fruitful seeds of happiness. While sitting in silence, our minds become trained in all of the aforementioned characteristics: simple life, forgiveness, retreating while connecting and scripture-focused. I count all these things as achieving transcendent moments planted in the presence of God. Whatever is going on today can be placed on hold for a moment to be reminded of what is good, what is true, what is noble… the fruits of each resulting in happiness. To experience transcendence, leading to happiness, we must heed the call from Psalmist who states, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

HsiLaiTea

Reference: Yun, H. (2012). The core teachings: Essays in basic Buddhism. (4th ed.) Los Angeles, CA: Buddha’s Light Publishing.