Archive for the ‘Awareness’ Category

Motives

June 24, 2022

People who lived prior to 1890 or so described emotional/psychological issues as caused by spirits. Or demons. In “Discernment of the Spirits,” the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing describes someone driven by the spirits of wrath, malice, and wickedness.

“For that wicked accursed wretch will sometimes change his likeness into that of an angel of light, in order that, under the color of virtue, he may do more mischief. He leads them on…always under the pretext of devotion and charity, not because he takes any delight in works of devotion or of charity, but because he loves dissension and scandal.”

Does that describe anyone you know? Church leader? Politician? Neighbor? Yourself?

Discern carefully the spirit of those you meet. Some will be genuinely full of the spirits of love (charity) or devotion. Others may be masking anger, anxiety, fear, or just plain wickedness.

Always be aware.

Put Your Mask On First

June 23, 2022

In case of sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from above your head. Pull to activate. Put your mask on before helping others.

Have you flown in a commercial airliner in the past 30 years? If you’ve flown at least as much as I have, you may have the entire performance memorized. Whether you are trying to or not.

We live in an era of anxiety and fear and anger (one breeds the next breeding the next). Not just in America where it plays out second by second on social media and TV. This is a global phenomenon. Millions, well billions, of people falling into those despairing emotions. Self-serving politicians also globally are always poised to exploit those emotions in order to gain or maintain power.

What can someone trying to live the life that Jesus pointed to (or Buddha, if you are so oriented) do to survive and help.

Put your mask on first.

The next thing you should do after reading and thinking on this is to pause and reflect. Where am I? How can I be assured of connecting to the source of oxygen (to continue the metaphor)? And I take myself out of the circle of anxiety and fear.

Thich Nhat Hahn told the story of Vietnamese refugee boats in troubled waters. If everyone on the boat was filled with anxiety and fear, all was lost. If even just one person remained calm, that calming influence spread and the boat was saved.

Thus only by putting on our own “mask” of calm can we help those around us. Don’t be a perpetrator of fear. Be a spreader of peace.

Pause and Enjoy

January 28, 2022

When you are a young person, you are like a young creek, and you meet many rocks, many obstacles and difficulties on your way. You hurry to get past these obstacles and get to the ocean. But as the creek moves down through the fields, it becomes larges and calmer and it can enjoy the reflection of the sky. It’s wonderful. You will arrive at the sea anyway so enjoy the journey. Enjoy the sunshine, the sunset, the moon, the birds, the trees, and the many beauties along the way. Taste every moment of your daily life.

Thich Nhat Hanh

We had a death in the family this week. There will be grief expressed in many ways.

But for us all, this reminder from Thich Nhat Hanh points those of us still here to meaning. We get so worked up in our opinions or miseries or worries. In the end, it is so meaningless.

Living long can be good. Living well is better. Best, of course, is both. Pause, enjoy, do good, be kind, go with the flow.

Mind Like Water

January 10, 2022

We should develop a mind like water. A pebble drops into a still pond. It causes a splash. Then ripples. Then the ripples smooth out until the surface of the pond is smooth again.

We cannot prevent disturbances from entering our lives. Stuff happens. Sometimes we are prepared. Sometimes not.

The disturbances can cause ripples that gradually smooth out. When we learn to calm our minds, we can deal with the disturbances.

Yoda in Star Wars sensed a disturbance in the Force. Sometimes we sense a disturbance in the Spirit. We breathe. Focus. And allow ourselves to be like the water in the pond letting the ripples gradually smooth.

The Whole Thing and its Parts

December 29, 2021
Entrance to Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Gardens

We visited Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Gardens last evening. Various artists transformed groves of plants and trees into light and music experiences.

We had our first significant snow of the year yesterday. Even with temperatures above freezing (38F or 3C) causing some melting, the vestiges of the white snow perfectly enhanced the experience.

The highlight for me was a laser light show across a small lake. Dancing lights to a festive piece of music. In contemplation just in the moment, I de-focused my eyes and absorbed the experience. Yet all the while part of my mind was thinking of the technical intricacies of the lights themselves and the programming required.

Listening to s symphonic orchestra is the same experience. I listen to the whole piece while also noticing the work and movements of each instrument and how the composer and then conductor has brought them altogether for a beautiful whole piece.

Similarly, one should read a great book including Scripture. You must absorb the whole of the main argument of the writer while yet enjoying the parts. One errs by picking out sentences while yet missing the whole thought.

Yet, how often readers of spiritual texts do just that. And not only Christians. Check out how often you also see that trait in the Hindu and Islamic traditions. A human trait, this is, as Yoda might have put it.

And a human trait we can learn to overcome with awareness and practice.

Just don’t think so much that you miss the beauty of the whole.

Oh How The Mind Churns

November 15, 2021

We get caught in a trap. It’s like the little exercise wheel we put in the gerbil cage. Much energy is expended going faster and faster but going nowhere.

What we did or said really wasn’t that bad. Besides, it’s all their fault. Or, how could I be so stupid. Or, everyone hates me.

It’s possible that we could be that patient whom the psychologist told, “You’re not paranoid. Everyone does hate you.”

But, probably not. Most of the time most people really regard you positively.

And, so, it becomes our task to realize that people really will give us the benefit of the doubt. We just need to get off that exercise wheel to nowhere. We must step away from ourselves a bit with some self-awareness. Then deal with it.

A quick apology from the heart when we’ve said the wrong thing or screwed up something keeps us out of the gerbil wheel of blame.

Smile at people you meet. Most return the smile. And both of you have a little bit of sunshine in your day.

The calm mind wins the day. Warriors understand that the calm mind helps them survive and win. Athletes learn that the calm mind leads to superior performance.

It starts with self-awareness. And continues with controlling our breath.

Knowledge of Sin is the Beginning of Salvation

October 27, 2021

The knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation. I could be quoting that from many sources. This one happens to be the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. At times he sounds so much like the Apostle Paul that it is painful.

One gimmick that always worked for humor in cartoons is to exaggerate an action with consequences poised in suspense until the character realizes his predicament. Take the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. The coyote would miss the roadrunner running off the top of a cliff. But he didn’t drop until he realized there was no ground beneath his feet.

That works metaphorically with us. We just go on our merry way with our hateful attitudes or sexual affairs or consuming too much food or drink or carrying that grudge against someone.

Then one day it all comes crashing down around us. Health, relationships, finances.

Unless…

We wake up before reaching the edge of the cliff. Stop. Think it over. Realize what we’re doing. Understand the consequences of the direction we’re traveling. And allow salvation to heal us.

Or you will be like the subject of The Rolling Stones song:

You better stop, look around

Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes

Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown

Keith Richards/Mick Jagger

Perfect

October 14, 2021

Ryan Holliday has created a lucrative niche writing about the Stoics. Unlike writers on spiritual disciplines from the Christian tradition who are not mainstream evangelicals. He recently looked a a series of Stoics who, although writing deeply about wisdom, weren’t always all that wise in action. They made mistakes in their daily and business and political lives.

Jesus never invited a perfect person into his group. Never. Check them all out. Flaws. Some glaringly obvious. Peter—need I say more? James and John arguing over political positions in the kingdom that was coming. Mary, the former prostitute.

Yet, our evangelical churches (maybe almost all churches?) act as if you need to be perfect to join and remain perfect for life. Otherwise, the gossiping, avoiding, criticizing begin.

But (and as they like to say, a big but), we are not perfect. Not one of us. Perhaps some of us manage to sail through the calm waters of life thinking we’re perfect, but those people are delusional.

God made an unforgettable impression on me in mediation years ago by showing me all the ways in which I am not perfect. Not that I don’t have small remembrances many times a day of actions where I was less than perfect.

That’s OK. God also showed me that none are perfect, yet all are welcome into his domain. Jesus brought them all into the fold. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson.

This has a name, and its name is grace.

Change Your Point of View

October 11, 2021

We moved at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. There was no way we were getting a painter in. There was no way that I was going to paint the entire house myself. We lived with contractor white walls everywhere until a few weeks ago.

When we moved in, I listened to my wife who always wanted my desk in Ohio situated so that you look out the window. So, I put my desk in this house against the wall looking out at the yard. I always felt uncomfortable. I decided one day to turn the desk around. My back is to the window. I’m facing the door. I chose a deep blue as a soothing, meditative color when we painted.

I now feel more comfortable whether at this desk for reading or my standing desk to the right out of the picture.

Changing your point of view, that direction from which you observe things, broadens perspective. You can take in other views. Consider additional facts and opinions.

This also leads to growth and maturity. Try looking at things differently. It’s possible you’ve missed something important. And you may feel more in the flow.

The Spirit Becomes Dull

September 27, 2021

Why do demons wish to commit acts of gluttony, impurity, avarice, wrath, resentment, and the other evil passions in us? Here is the reason–that the spirit in this way should become dull and consequently rendered unfit to pray. For when man’s irrational passions are thriving he is not free to pray and to seek the word of God.

Evagrius

These passions suck your energy. And what have you to offer other than your energy?

These passions have invaded me at times. And God has shown me what more I am capable of. When these visit me at my times of meditation or working, my energy is diverted and squandered.

You rise from the desk to get a handful of peanuts or almonds for energy (and no subsequent weight gain) and your eye goes to the pantry’s snack food shelf. And one potato chip or cookie turns into a continual reaching for more, just what the food scientists working for those companies predict. Thank you gluttony for destroying my day, dulling my senses, increasing my waistline.

While researching something on the Web, you see one picture. The demons (as Evagrius calls them, we call them impulses) grab your imagination and all energy is diverted down an unhealthy path.

The comedian Flip Wilson (popular in the 60s) portrayed a character whose phrase was, “Get behind me Satan!” Actually, good advice.

  • Awareness of the approaching passion/emotion;
  • Intentionally push back;
  • Focus again on the task at hand;
  • Regain energy after a momentary diversion.