Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

It Is A Practice

September 20, 2022

Vitaliy Katsenelsen emigrated from Soviet Russia with his family when he was 18. He was thoroughly indoctrinated into the Soviet system with a few difficulties because he was Jewish. He is now a successful financial analyst and CEO of an investment firm in Denver called IMA. I follow him because of his financial analysis writing. He also calls himself a “student of life.” I like that phrase. I resemble that remark.

He published a book called Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life. He talks of family life and also of his discovery of Stoic philosophy. You may wonder about bringing the Stoics into this blog. I have done it before. Seneca’s writing sounds so much like Paul’s that Christians in the 4th and 5th centuries thought he was a Christian.

Katsenelsen writes, “Stoic philosophy is not an academic distraction; it is a practice.”

Those words should also describe following Jesus.

Christ-followers for a couple of centuries after Jesus were known by how they lived, not by what they said.

Then Christianity became political in the middle ages. Then a proposition to agree with rather than a way of life.

Rebellion to this spurred the “Jesus movement” of the late 60s and early 70s. But the movement was co-opted by commercial interests. This gave us the mega-church movement of the last 40 years with its rock concert followed by a TED Talk.

I’ve always pictured following Jesus as like those scouts in the American West during the 1800s. Pioneers. Out in front of the trail. Showing the way with wisdom and foresight.

Following Jesus is not an academic distraction; it is a practice.

Lonely People

September 8, 2022

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Elenor Rigby, Lennon/McCartney

Not being lonely constitutes one path to longevity.

Have you friends? A friend? Someone?

I think of Jesus and how he was at times alone among friends. Have you ever been in a room full of people and still feel alone? Have you called that room a church sometimes?

Maybe a family? I have memories of being a child at home and being alone even with three brothers. My mom probably wished for alone time.

Being alone does not equal being lonely. I like times to be alone. I like times to be with others. I am both extrovert and introvert—like most of us.

But lonely? When that visits, we hope it intends a short stay hotel not an extended stay residence.

I wish I could advise you on being unlonely. If I knew, I’d practice it. Go to a coffee house, see someone and ask a question, I guess. Questions are your friend.

Work Success

August 30, 2022

What does it take to be better at work? Even for someone like me who works alone?

One of my few go-to news sources is called Axios. They use a technique called smart brevity. What I like. Short and to the point. I wrote to them about too many adjectives, but in reality they minimize those extraneous and emotion-laden words. (Did you notice what I just wrote?) I’ve always tried that here.

They have a daily newsletter called Finish Line that ponders personal issues. They ran a series where they asked readers from different generations to send their thoughts on work. I appreciated how similar the thoughts were. Founder Jim VandeHei summarized all the comments in a column called the 10 Commandments of Work Success.

Click the link to read them all. My picks from the litter include:

  1. Serve others: If it’s only about you, you will do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Life is empty alone. 
  2. Work morally: Honesty, grace, humility, hard work and honor are the core values of a work-life well-lived. 
  3. Work smart: Working hard on the wrong or nonessential things is time wasted. 
  4. Study deeply: Master the tiny details and panoramic context of your profession. 
  5. Study thyself: Be clear-eyed about your gifts and flaws. It’s the only path to betterment.
  6. Fortify thyself: Optimal work performance is impossible without healthy relationships, diet and exercise, and spirituality and mindfulness outside of it. 

The bottom line: When the clock stops,  smile confidently — knowing you did it right and well.

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

August 23, 2022

The seventh Beatitude in The Message translation:

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

And, God, can we use more of these today!

This blog has an international readership. I studied international politics at university writing a major paper on US-China relations (in 1968). I’ve imported and exported and dealt internationally for most of my career. I don’t think there exists a single place where I know people or read about in the entire Earth that cannot use someone who can show people how to cooperate.

I am working on a blog post/essay analyzing several announcements by technical trade organizations that have competed vehemently over the past 15 years or more. These announcements have at least one common theme–cooperation. They still compete. But, for the good of the customer, they are cooperating on standards and compliance. The organizations represent companies from Germany, US, France, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, even China. And more.

Cooperation makes life better for us all.

That’s why I turn off all inputs to my mind that emphasize divisiveness. TV news. Social media. Most print/web news. I pick my sources carefully with the goal of knowing what’s going on in the world with as little hype as possible.

And I tune out all the people who seek to make faith in God political. The guy I follow, Jesus, shunned politics. His kingdom was God’s kingdom. It was about living with God. He tried to show both the Roman governors and the Jewish leaders a new way.

Every day in every way we can point to cooperation and reconciliation rather than strife and conflict. We could make this a movement.

Bring Order To Your Inside World

August 22, 2022

I’m slowly thinking my way through the beginning of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. The bullet points to outline the context we cal the Beatitudes–written in The Message translation. This is the sixth of eight. We have learned about emptying ourselves so that we can have room for God. Then about focusing on God in order to fill ourselves with him.

But wait! Sometimes there is more. A next step.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

We have tried to empty ourselves and focus on God. Sometimes we may try to focus our mind, yet our heart is not with us.

Have you ever tried to meditate or pray or even read and our mind says it is time but our heart it troubled? Or, perhaps our heart wants to settle into meditation and our mind is scattered into a thousand thoughts?

How blessed we are when we sit in meditation or sit with someone else and our mind and our heart are together, focused on the moment. There is a calm that envelops us. We are completely present in the moment.

Fill Me With God

August 18, 2022

According to the Apostle Matthew, Jesus noticed the crowds and his closer followers (probably one of the better understatements in the New Testament), and walked up a hillside, sat down (as was the custom), and taught.

He led with eight thoughts about being blessed. The first three we discussed in the last two posts concerned emptying yourself. Now, why should we empty ourselves? Yes, to be blessed, for sure. But Jesus continues:

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

An empty mind and soul can be the devil’s playground. But not if you intentionally choose what will fill them. That is why I always recommend turning off TV news. Be ever watchful of what fills your mind. With 2,000 years of Christian writers to help us, there is no excuse for not finding something to help us fill our minds with God. Work up a good appetite, Jesus says. Eat and drink from the goodness of God.

Here are a few items on the buffet table: the Desert Fathers, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, many more guides and mentors.

Read. Sit quietly and focus. Fill your mind and soul.

When You Are Empty, Then You Can Be Filled

August 16, 2022

I’ve been reading the Christian Bible, the New Testament, in a different translation. I like to do that. The new choices of words open my mind enabling deeper insights into meaning. These sentences are the first two “Beatitudes” or the opening words of the way Matthew presented what we call The Sermon on the Mount.

  • You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
  • Your blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the one most dear to you.

Both of these speak to our condition. When we are too full of ourselves, too full of our competence, importance, possessions, people, then we have no room for God.

The presentation seems to prepare us for all the teaching that follows throughout Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7.

We should not have the hubris to dive in and just read those teachings as if we can easily pick up the meaning. We must begin, much like the 12-step program, by recognizing our limitations, by emptying our self-importance. Then we can appropriately approach what Jesus is trying to teach us.

Scholars, both professional and amateur, miss the next point which is the conclusion of of the sermon:

Whoever hears these words and does them…

Tips For A Stable Life

August 2, 2022

Fear less, hope more

Eat less, chew more

Talk less, say more

Love more, and all good things will be yours.

Swedish Proverb

I wrote about some of my disciplines recently. These four thoughts speak volumes with few words.

Let me be quiet and allow the meanings to sink in.

Rigidity

August 1, 2022

“Rigidity is the first sign,” writes Richard Foster, “that discipline has gone to seed.”

I recently told a friend that I had a firm discipline in my morning routine. Rise from bed at about the same time, exercise including Yoga, weights, hot tub (we don’t have a sauna), breakfast, shower, meditate, write. I kept much of it up during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, but not enough. I lost some fitness and gained some weight.

Without undergoing any radical changes, I’ve increased fitness and dropped 10 pounds in the last few months.

Then I recalled this thought from Richard Foster, my spiritual disciplines guru.

We must develop the flexibility mindset that we can deviate from the discipline at times without guilt and regret. Then slip right back into the routine. I’ll have a vacation soon. Most of the routine will be gone. That is OK. I bet even Ignatius of Loyola slipped once in a while.

Extreme Discipline

July 29, 2022

The original theme of this blog concerned spiritual disciplines riffing Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard. I read their books many years ago and even taught a couple of classes on the subject. 

It was discipline that brought me through the pandemic plus moving to a new state in reasonably good shape. The discipline of consistent bed time. Rising early for workout and meditation—even when the workout had to change because I had moved to a new community and all the gyms were closed due to Covid. Specific writing times. I did gain some pandemic weight which is all off now. Working on dropping more, although my doctor told me I was doing fine two weeks ago.

One of the few news sources I trust (even though I sent a reprimand to the CEO about too many adjectives in headlines at times) is called Axios. They use a technique called Smart Brevity, which I applaud. They’ve started a new newsletter called Finish Line focusing on life lessons. 

Here are thoughts from today. I endorse all of these.

1. Our diets: There are countless good ones, but let’s face it — most boil down to limiting things (sugar, simple carbs, booze, processed food) and starting things (more water, greens, fiber, healthy proteins — peas, eggs, fish). Try extreme dieting discipline for one week and measure how you feel.

2. Our faith/mind: It’s hard to center your brain and soul without some daily meditation, prayer, reflection. I try to meditate twice daily for 20 minutes and pray afterwards in the a.m. For me, this only works when I am extremely disciplined about it.

3. Our bodies: To me, every person should find a daily exercise habit, even if it’s walking, air squats, planks or biking. The body and mind vastly underperform without it. Start young to make it an extreme habit. But better to start now than tomorrow.

4. Our careers: All of the above give you a massive edge at work. But if you really want to crush the thing you spend the vast majority of your hours doing, you need to be more disciplined and self-demanding than others. There is no easy way to be great.

5. Our goodness: This might seem an odd coda. But few things fuel contentment and inner joy more than giving to others. If you think about the benefits (helping others + the psychic lift of doing it), it’s a very efficient use of extreme discipline.

The big picture: Start small. Pick a passion — practice extreme discipline for a few months. You’ll find it gets increasingly easy to apply it to other parts of your life.