Archive for the ‘Awareness’ Category

When I Comes Before We

July 12, 2021

The teacher on the podcast I listened to this morning on my walk around the ponds mentioned that problem—when I comes before we.

Evagrius Ponticus, a 4th Century Christian monk and teacher, early in his Praktikos writes about the eight kinds of evil thoughts. The last he addresses is pride.

The demon of pride is the cause of the most damaging fall for the soul. For it causes the monk to deny that God is his helper and to consider that he himself is the cause of virtuous actions. Further, he gets a big head in regard to the brethren, considering them stupid because they do not all have this same opinion of him.

Evagrius Ponticus, Praktikos

I have seen this affect others in a negative way destroying relationships and respect. But that is hardly the key. Most important it is our ability to see this within ourselves and to “nip it in the bud” as the saying goes.

Anger follows this, according to Evagrius. If we pay too much attention to media, we may think of anger as the description of our culture. Anger from pride or anger from fear.

As we nestle with God in prayer and contemplation, seek release from pride and then from anger. Ourselves and everyone around us will be the better for it.

Simplify

May 18, 2021

I sat with my bowl of oatmeal (porridge) this morning. Note: sorry keto or paleo people, but whole grains with their fiber is an excellent way of taming cholesterol and triglycerides. I thought about how I used to eat oatmeal what I would call American style–with a lump of brown sugar and raisons.

One day I considered that. Why add sugar? And raisons are not my favorite. I pitched the sugar and added fresh fruit instead of dried (less sugar there, too). I discovered I liked the flavor of the cereal itself.

When I was introduced to coffee, I added milk and sugar. I found I was drinking more coffee when I began working in manufacturing. I noticed the additives–powdered cream surely cannot be healthy. We add too much sugar to everything. So, one day I simplified. I drank just the coffee. It can have a wonderful flavor all by itself. Especially so when you get a direct trade coffee pour over or french press. But I digress.

Of course, then product development people (I was once one of those) began perfecting caffeine delivery systems adding foamed milk and shots of sugary syrup with the fancy Italian name of latte–but that’s another story.

Our lives often become complicated by the additives we accumulate. Possessions, activities, acquaintances who drag us down.

Sometimes, we need to metaphorically step back from ourselves and take a look at our lives. And strip away the unhealthy habits and possessions. Discover the true flavors of living in the present moment shorn of all the peripherals that distract.

Simplify. It doesn’t have to be boring. It can be liberating.

Are You a Drag?

May 12, 2021

Yes, I wish that for just one time

You could stand inside my shoes

You’d know what a drag it is

To see you.

Positively 4th Street, Bob Dylan

We really don’t know what impact we have on others.

Many soccer referees have talked with me over the past ten years or so and say, “I remember when you offered this suggestion…”

I try to watch what I say. My mom was always on the borderline of depression. I always watched carefully to see where she was and tried to be careful about what I said. Sometime she was just fine. Other times just one word would cause some large reaction.

I’ve known many other people who occasionally react with anger or other strong emotion to something I might say. This is tough for me. I’m an observer and always wanting to point out some odd observation. Or, I love playing with words and may have some quick quip about something someone says. I more than 50 years of marriage, I think my wife has appreciated approximately none of those quick observations or quips.

Even trying to watch for my impact on others, I’m still surprised when someone like the referees I cited mention something I said that was impactful in their lives.

Then I listen to Dylan and wonder how many people feel that way…about me. I can still remember a remark a cousin made about my geeky inability to fit in.

Self-awareness is actually a discipline to cultivate. The early 20th Century psychologist Roberto Assagioli talked about the ability to picture the scene you are acting in as if you are observing from just above it. See yourself acting out with others.

If you could do that (I’m speaking from experience), you’d immediately change your attitude and behavior. You’d stop yelling at the clerk or the child. You’d pause and help someone pick up what they had dropped. You would let that car ahead squeeze in to the traffic lane.

In other words, to cite the words of Jesus, you’d treat others as you would like to be treated.

Then you wouldn’t be the object of Bob Dylan’s penetrating observation.

Self Deception

April 23, 2021

Jesus is bringing his teaching session toward a close. Studying the message afterward, we can read through and then read again. So, we notice a message he wishes to drive home to his listeners.

Do you know that the subheads so conveniently placed at the beginnings of sections are not part of the scripture? Just like chapter and verse numbers, some nice editor added those to make it easier for us to read.

The subhead for this paragraph in the translation I’m using (NRSV) says, “Concerning Self Deception.”

Jesus says, “Not all who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I have come across people who say that you only need to say the magic words and everything will be all right.

Jesus continues, “…but only the one who does the will of my Father.”

The concluding paragraph uses the analogy of the the wise person who builds a house on a solid foundation who is the one who hears Jesus’ words and acts on them.

I think we have a theme.

I also think Jesus knew people. He knew that it’s easy for us to convince ourselves we do well when we don’t.

Maybe we think that we ate a healthy diet yesterday, conveniently forgetting about the chips and cookies. Maybe we convince ourselves that we are saying things that are true when we are actually just justifying actions we know are duplicitous.

Self awareness is one of the keys to wisdom. Self deception follows our every thought. It’s a struggle we often do not realize exists. It’s all so clear to us…until someone points out the emperor has no clothes.

Avoid self deception. Seek self awareness…even when it is unsettling.

Do Not Hold Others In Contempt

April 19, 2021

I am once again deep into Matthew 5-7 popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. I am not a professional Biblical scholar, but I have to believe this wasn’t a one-and-done talk. Jesus probably taught this whenever he had a crowd of 10 or more. Based on some research, I also think that this is not a random collection of sayings that Matthew heard during his time with Jesus. It fits together too well and leads to an obvious conclusion.

After he talked about how various people among his hearers would be blessed through his introduction of the nearness of the kingdom of the heavens (as Dallas Willard likes to say), he tackles what we would call Root Cause Analysis–anger that leads to murder and contempt.

It is becoming socially acceptable in many cultures today to openly hold people of different races, tribes, and religions in contempt. A paper is openly circulating in the US Congress right now upholding this. It is even acceptable in many places around the world by some people to openly discuss and act on killing those whom we hold in contempt.

What spiritual disciplines could we bring to bear to counter such thoughts and actions?

It always must begin with self-awareness. Whether we read in the Bible or other spiritual writings and biographies, circumstance must conspire to bring us to the depths of realization of how we have fallen short of God’s expectations. Then coming to the realization of how the kingdom of God is right here around us.

As we meditate on the nearness of God and his teaching, we can begin to recognize and act on our fears that drive anger that drive contempt.

Jesus closed his talk with a call to action. “Whoever hears my words and acts on them is like a wise man who builds his house on a solid foundation.”

We must hear; we must act. Each of us. Wherever we are.

Where Am I?

March 31, 2021

I found myself reflecting on Paul’s Letter to the Roman Christians. This is perhaps the most cogent blueprint of spiritual formation in the Christian Bible.

It begins with knowing where we are. Spiritually and emotionally, of course.

When we pause over a period of time and begin to understand what drives us. We begin.

We have to become aware of the things that influence us–advertising, comments on social media, character on a TV show, social media influencer…

Awareness that we are capable of doing and thinking of things that violate our own best self and are hurtful to other human beings. That comes first before we can do anything.

Then we can begin to be open to change. We can find that Jesus pointed to a path.

That path includes time alone in prayer and meditation. But if you stop there, you’ve missed the point. It’s all about going from that secure place to be able to help others in whatever way we can.

At the end of his life, Jesus left us only one command for life–love one another as he loved us.

Go figure that out in your own actions.

Breathe

March 18, 2021

We forget that we breathe. It just happens. Well, it happens or we die.

I hear or read the word, and I immediately become conscious of my breath. Then I regulate it. Slow down. Become aware of how my chest expands and diaphragm drops as the lungs fill with air. And then the contraction as I exhale.

Ever notice how people talk differently? Some talk with breath support–you’re taught that at speaking school. Some have a lazy diaphragm and lower abdominal muscles and speak in a lazier way lacking some enunciation. It’s breath.

Warriors must learn to regulate breath. As should all of us in stressful situations or when working.

We pay attention to breath while meditating. Slowing down. Filling our lungs.

Some people who study such things report that humans typically only fill their lungs to about 20% capacity. Stop, become aware, fill your lungs completely followed by a slow exhale (all through the nose) several times a day. Take short breaks from the computer or the book you’re reading. Breathe.

In Yoga, we learn pranayama–breathing exercises. I never told my class, “Now, we’ll do pranayama.” Instead, I would begin a class sitting (usually, but sometimes standing or reclining) and lead through some different breath work to get us warm and in the mood to begin exercise.

Breathing is so essential, yet so unconscious that James Nestor researched globally and wrote a book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. I have not read the book, but I heard him interviewed on a podcast. So, this book is on my list.

Pause. Breathe with awareness. Set a timer on your calendar to pause during the day. Breathe. As I breathe with intention, I turn my awareness to God. It’s like a “God break” during the day.

Ever-Changing Roles

February 18, 2021

She was a freshman and I a sophomore at university. While we were chatting before an English class, she said, “I’m going to be a lawyer.” This would have probably been in 1967.

She noticed the involuntary look of (probably) disgust on my face and bristled, “You don’t think women should be lawyers?”

“It’s not that,” I replied. “I don’t think anyone should be a lawyer.” I had no problem with her being whatever she wanted to be, as long as it was legal and ethical (neither of which, oh well, you get the point).

Since we have settled into a routine with the pandemic-enforced not going to meetings or Yoga, my wife turns on the TV about 8 pm (as a retired elementary school teacher, her entire life revolved around schedules) every evening. Typically we pick an English murder mystery series and watch the entire series straight through at two hours per night. We currently juggle an older Australian murder mystery series, Miss Fisher, with the currently running on PBS Miss Scarlett plus a different kind of story All Creatures Great and Small.

Miss Scarlett works in Victorian 1880s London. Partly by circumstance, partly by disposition, she becomes a private detective. An old family friend is the local Detective Inspector, and she becomes his unwanted companion solving crimes. 40 years later in Melbourne, Australia, Miss Fisher, an adventurous and wealthy slightly older woman, becomes a private detective and unwanted companion also of the local Detective Chief Inspector. Miss Fisher brought a young woman, Dottie, into her household and into her business. Dottie becomes romantically entangled with Hugh, a police constable working for said DCI.

A significant subplot of both series tells the stories of the three men and how they struggle to accept the changing role of women.

100 years later, it’s today. and men in most of the world are continuing to struggle with the role of women. But it has gotten worse for these men (and many women, too) because the struggle has broadened to having to deal with the once-hidden reality of homosexuality. Lest you think that is an American problem, in the United Methodist Church (becoming dis-United thanks to this issue) the largest anti-homosexual voting bloc is from Africa. And not just sexuality, we are dealing more and more with the realities of acceptance of multiple ethnicities and races. Again, not only an American problem, it’s a human problem.

I was not brought up this way, but somewhere along the line of my maturing, I became pretty completely accepting of all this rich variety of humanity. I think it’s great, actually. One of my most moving meditation experiences was God showing me the family of the human race.

People have always tried to ascribe to the Apostle Paul 20th Century values to a guy brought up in the 1st Century. We miss the revolutionary parts of his remarks. Like the times he says there are no Jews or Greeks, male or female, slave or free, but we are all one in Christ.

Or the time he gave instructions about church services (totally misinterpreted by most) where he says men do not have to cover their heads while praying, but women should cover their heads when praying. What’s revolutionary? My wife still get upset thinking of this instruction. Why do men not have to cover their heads? That’s not the point.

In Jewish synagogue meetings, there were only men in the primary part of the building. They had “prayer shawls” and covered their heads when praying. If you have a mixed group of worshippers as in the early church, the “Greeks” would not have had those head coverings. Paul said, just do away with them so all are the same. And then, pause and let this digest, women were allowed to be in the main part of the worship with the men and they were allowed to pray in the group. Paul just asks for a a certain amount of modesty. I know that women today don’t make personal statements with their hair styling and coloring, but back then… I think Paul was being about as revolutionary as he thought he could get away with.

Recognizing our fear of change of these developing and empowering roles of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, is the first step to being able to deal with it. We can succumb to the fear by abuse and hatred and even killing others not like us. Or we can recognize and begin the hard work of dealing with it. That is something Christian churches were supposed to do–by accepting all these varieties of people into their worship with no second-class memberships.

Energy

February 2, 2021

We waste so much energy. Not the petroleum or electricity part. Although that is true. I mean our spiritual and mental energy. Our personal energy.

We succumb to illusion and delusion losing awareness of the ultimate truth. Our mental activities are scattered, dissipated. We have lost focus on the truth of God’s eternal spirit.

We organize our spiritual life into churches, denominations, organizations. And then we squabble among ourselves within and among those things.

We waste so much energy. Emotional, physical, psychic, spiritual.

Let us become clearly aware of the Spirit and our need for our own spiritual formation. Instead of scattered arguments, let us recall the lessons of pride and forge humility on the anvil of the spirit.

A writer once described his main character as having the ability to concentrate entirely on the task at had even in the midst of crises. He called it the immense power of focus.

A magnifying glass can focus the sun’s energy enough to start a fire. Imagine what we each could do if we were to focus the true source of energy onto the things God has asked of us–showing mercy, pursuing justice, loving our neighbor.

Today and Tomorrow

January 26, 2021

Reading from two different thinkers going different directions stretches the mind. Or causes cognitive dissonance. Or something.

Eberhard Arnold writing a thought for the day advised not being burdened by the future. Live your life today.

This is ancient spiritual and mental health teaching. Living in remorse for the past–either things done or left undone–has burdened many people into living less than a full life. Yet, living in fear of the future constricts our growth.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, writing in his last book, Morality, points to the problem of living today ignoring the future. Andy Stanley teaching in last weekend’s Your Move noted much the same thing. One little decision made today can start a new habit, affect your children or grandchildren, or affect the environment. We do need to pause at times and reflect on the potential outcomes.

There was a time when humans thought that given enough data and a starting point they could predict the exact future hundreds of years out.

Along came chaos theory. The classic example is a butterfly beating its wings in Brazil starts an air current that eventually causes a hurricane going up the North American coast. In other words, systems are so complex that we cannot predict tomorrow. Ask any weather scientist with her bank of differential equations who missed last night’s projected snowfall by at least 6 inches (literally last night here in northeast Illinois).

It is important to live in the moment dealing with and then discarding burdens from the past or fears for tomorrow. It is also important to be aware of the potentials involved in the little decisions we make constantly.

Balance is essential to living in the spirit.