Archive for the ‘Awareness’ Category

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.

Self Help

January 19, 2021

A woman became dissatisfied with her life. She decided to actually live in accordance with self-help books. She had 15 such books. For one month at a time, she took 15 months to live each one strictly according to each one of those books.

She gained 14 pounds. She lost one of her best friends. She became self-absorbed, narcissistic.

Some people read through the Bible as if it were a self-help book. Compile a list of do’s and don’ts. Eat the Daniel diet. Point out to others how well they are doing–and conversely how far from ideal they are.

Jesus indeed taught people how to live. Perhaps not so much what to do, but more so what kind of person to be.

Jesus seemed to be much more interested in the state of our hearts. If our hearts are in the right attitude and orientation, then we will live as if described as one of the heroes in his stories.

It all starts from within. It’s like the path Paul charted through his letter to the Romans. It all starts with awareness of what we are leading to a change of heart leading to living in a new, freer way. The kind of life that those around say, “I want what she’s having.”

Violence Won’t Resolve Ethnic Issues

January 18, 2021

I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I echo those thoughts. Much of the cause of the events in America on January 6 lay in fear leading to anger leading to hate.

But Americans shouldn’t feel alone in that, even though those feelings toward black people and “foreigners” are as old as the country. There is no country in the world of which I’m aware where this vicious cycle doesn’t play out. Europe is struggling. The Middle East has its own problems with ethnicities. It’s still dangerous to be a Jew in Russia. Likewise to be Uighur or Tibetan in China. Or Rohingya in supposedly Buddhist Myanmar or Bangladesh.

It’s a human problem.

We can try legislation, which has some, but limited, impact.

The solution lies in a change of heart. Jesus worked specifically on that heart problem. A pastor I heard once called Jesus the first cardiologist. But even Jesus didn’t change all the hearts. The rule makers and followers killed him.

But as we look in the mirror today—the day America sets aside to honor Dr. King’s legacy—what is the condition of our own heart? What do we need to do to change and bring it in alignment with that of Jesus? When can we look past ethnicity into the character of the person?

Today would be a good time to start.

Beyond To Do Lists and Don’t Do This Lists

December 23, 2020

How about a list of virtues? Something to guide us into a better state of being?

Humans seem to love lists of “thou shalt not”. They have compiled these for thousands of years. They are a means of comparison. I can prove that I am better than you by comparing how we did on rule-following

However, humans on a spiritual path also have discovered thousands of years ago the list of virtues. Make these your way of life and you will live a better life and be more successful.

Like water, it benefits all things, but does not contend with them.

It unprotestingly takes the lowest position.

This person adapts to any environment;

Attunes the mind to what is profound;

Is kind when dealing with others;

Is sincere in speech;

Is efficient in work;

Is opportune in actions;

Does not contend with anyone;

And, thus, is above reproach.

Within the stresses of holiday and pandemic, shall we pause, become aware, then remember to practice virtue. At the very least, be kind.

Between Prejudice and Passion

December 16, 2020

Why lies He in such mean estate,

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear, for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

What Child is This

When we read things, our mind conjures images. Christians have settled upon a long tradition of the humble manger (“mean estate”) scene. When you visit Israel as a Christian tourist, guides will dutifully show you examples of first-century mangers (feeding troughs).

I imagine that we all ascribe personal meanings when we view the scene in our mind’s eye. Evelyn Underhill saw this:

Human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice; animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on the quiet. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in their very manger he must be laid – and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. Sometimes Christians seem far nearer to those animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.

Evelyn Underhill

This image both appeals to me and repulses me. We are, each one of us, inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice. They do take up a lot of room in our consciousness and our unconsciousness. Unrecognized, they turn us into rigid, nasty, temperamental people.

But Jesus said that we don’t have to be that way. If we have the discipline to truly follow him, we can harness passion to the benefit of humanity like an ox harnessed to a plow helps provide food for many. We can likewise train the ass–recognizing our prejudices and dealing with them–such that we begin to see others as God sees them, as his children.

Underhill correctly observes that sometimes Christians seem to be more like those animals than like the person they are supposed to be following. But we have a choice. We can choose to truly follow Jesus living in God’s kingdom by harnessing the ox of passion and training the ass to recognize and overcome our prejudices.

Somedays I think this is a never-ending journey. This trip requires discipline.

All Things Come and Go

December 14, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

Abraham Lincoln, in a speech before he was elected president, said, “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Perhaps we should meditate on two phrases–“chastening in the hour of pride” and “consoling in the depths of affliction”.

I have not written much about the pandemic, mostly because, what can I say that isn’t already said? Except that most things I read fall into one of two camps–scare us about how many deaths, or ignore it and it will go away.

This is not the first pandemic humans have weathered. It will not be the last. Nor is it the deadliest. But it is real. Some people withdraw as much as possible to avoid contracting the virus; some people act as if it’s nothing to worry about. I used to think those attitudes fell along political lines. But it is more personal than that.

I read about a General who was a prisoner of war during the VietNam war for many years. He said that those who made it through were optimistic in the long term. Those who didn’t were the ones who set a date–we’ll be home for Christmas, oops, we’ll be home for Easter, oops, we’ll be home for 4th of July, and so forth.

This pandemic will pass. One way or another. I am optimistic–for the long term. And we’ll forget about it–mostly. Then someday another will spread. Humans will still populate the planet.

And God, the creative source of life, will remain the point of stability in a changing world.

TS Eliot described that in his poem Burnt Norton from the Four Quartets:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, 

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where the past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

TS Eliot, Burnt Norton

Embrace Vulnerability

December 11, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practice being curious
  2. Forgive themselves
  3. Hold their emotions lightly
  4. Practice compassion
  5. Make peace with imperfection
  6. Embrace vulnerability
  7. Understand all things come and go

About 2,000 years ago, a man walked on a hot, dusty Middle Eastern road. He had a destination, a goal, and a mission. He was serious, and, he thought, powerful.

He saw an extremely bright light, heard voices, followed by the realization that he could not see.

He was now totally vulnerable. Without his friends to guide him to the destination city, he could have died on the road. In the city, people came to him to help him. People he did not know. They could have killed him. He was still vulnerable.

The man we know as the Apostle Paul embraced that vulnerability until the end of his life. Yet, he became one of the major influencers of Western culture until this day.

I guess vulnerability is when we don’t have all the power to determine our destiny even for the rest of the day. It’s when we don’t know everything.

We can live in a world of delusion. We can live in a world of paranoia. We’ve all met citizens of those realms. Perhaps we’ve been there.

Or, like Paul, we could embrace our vulnerability. Learn to live with it. And practice disciplines that guide us through it.

Victor Frankl discovered in the camps a way to maintain a core of strength even while being almost entirely vulnerable.

I’m not sure that we can grow mentally and spiritually by ignoring our vulnerability. We have a choice. We can embrace our vulnerability and then chose to use it to learn humility throwing off pride and walk with God in the direction he guides.