Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Taming the Monkey Mind

September 29, 2020

Sometimes we sit and our mind races from one thought to the next.

Like Curious George, this tendency can get us into a lot of trouble.

When I sit and focus on breath, I can begin to still the monkey mind.

Then I notice a settling in my chest.

And it extends into and through the extremities. My arms and legs feel calm.

The images in my mind slow down and become just a white light, which fades into dim.

Then I can sit in restful awareness for some time.

I come out of the meditation calm and focused and ready for the day.

It is good to repeat once or twice during the day just to maintain an even temperament.


Thoughts On Watching Leeds v Sheffield United

September 28, 2020

The Laws of the Game provide for a marked box within which the manager stands;

He stands at the corner, on the lines.

A field is provided for the farmer’s cattle for grazing bounded by a fence;

The herd congregates at the corner reaching through the fence for better grass.

Animals, humans, alike push the boundary;

Wishing to go into forbidden land.

Perhaps it began with Eve pushing the boundary of the Garden;

With Adam behind deflecting blame from himself.

The human condition–one pushes the boundary, pushes God;

While another places blame.

Need A Stimulant?

September 25, 2020

He led a fast-track life. Only 30 years old he founded a tech company leading the hard-driving life of a tech entrepreneur. Until one day he felt terrible. Queasy. Out of sorts.

He checked into an emergency room. His heart was racing at 170. He was on the verge of a heart attack.

After they settled him down, the doctor came in for a chat. What’s your lifestyle? Hmmm. How much coffee do you drink? Seven cups a day??

He was limited to half-a-cup per day. How am I going to get by on that? Where will my productivity come from? I need a safer stimulant.

So, he experimented and researched and eventually arrived at a concoction a few varieties of dried mushrooms, turmeric, and a variety of herbs and spices. He made it in his kitchen while still running the other business giving to friends to get their feedback. It is now his business. It’s called Magic Mind. I neither recommend it or advise against it. But his idea was a productivity booster without the caffeine.

I love the taste of coffee. Well, not all coffee. I’m a bit of a coffee snob. I drink Starbucks, but I find the coffee beans to have been over-roasted and scorched. Not the best drink. Must be why people mostly modify it with sugar and milk.

But I never noticed any productivity enhancement from coffee. I did notice once after we had purchased an espresso machine that chugging four shots of espresso was a bad idea! And, by the way, in general dark roast coffees have less caffeine than light roast coffees.

I wonder if we need the stimulant, or do we think we need the stimulant? I wonder this about a lot of things. Is school cafeteria food really bad, or are we just supposed to think it’s bad and therefore complain? Did you just come away from a high religious experience, or do you convince yourself that you must present to others a personality of high religious experience otherwise they won’t think you’re religious?

So, I wonder, how much do we feel that we need a stimulant to get going in the morning or how much do we really need the chemical?

It always seems to return to attitude and awareness. Are we aware of how our mind and how chemicals play with us? Can we cultivate the attitude of change to shed the negative aspects?

Oh, I’m drinking “Cafe Diego” this morning that Hemisphere Coffee Roasters buys directly from the Chavarria farm in Nicaragua. I have had the opportunity to meed Diego Chavarria and hear the story of the struggle of coffee farmers. If you can buy direct trade, please do so.

Earn a Demerit

September 24, 2020

You didn’t earn a merit point. In fact, what you did earned the opposite–a demerit.

What do we know about God? And about humans? We know that humans earn a demerit from God quite easily. It’s almost as if we cannot breathe without doing or thinking something that violates God’s high standards that will earn us another demerit.

That is why the endless efforts to devise lists of rules for others to follow so that we have a scorecard that shows some are better (us) and some are worse (them) is worse than useless.

God doesn’t look at some cosmic scoreboard and say, “Well, done. We scored 1 demerit and they scored 10. I declare we the winner.”

Some people think, “I don’t even need a scoreboard. I know how good I am. I don’t score by 1’s, my scores wouldn’t add up to 1 over a month.”

Others think there is no need to keep score because there’s no way I can win.

But God says, “Hold on there, people. Throw away that scoreboard. Even if you score 0.01, you lose. But I’m not participating in that game. That’s just you silly humans trying to divide yourselves into groups. I have something that is a different game. It’s called grace. And mercy. And I invite you into a new game in my kingdom where we don’t keep score.”

And when you decide to play a new game you become aware of your own demerits, ask forgiveness from God and those whom you’ve offended, and then live a new kind of life where you don’t keep score–you just love.

When I first learned Jesus songs back in the folk song days, I learned this one. It goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.”

[For reference, try reading the Letter to the Romans straight through to get the breadth of the argument Paul makes.]

Law of Unintended Consequences

September 23, 2020

French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre pondered the inextricable way slave owners are tied to their slaves. You start a way of life and you cannot escape.

Thomas Merton writing in New Seeds of Contemplation discusses what happens to one who hates as that hatred of others turns inward and destroys the hater.

The spiritual formation point is awareness. Until we become aware of who we are and what we’ve done, our lives can continue to spiral down the drain like when emptying the bath tub. The comic point of Wile E. Coyote is that he doesn’t fall when he’s run off the edge of the cliff until he is aware he is standing on air.

Sometimes, though, the unintended consequence of our actions leads to something good, as Rich Dixon writes on Jon Swanson’s 300 Words a Day blog today, that he pulled to the side of a road while cycling discovering a perfect place for prayer.

Awareness can stop us before we get in that predicament. Sometimes awareness can cause us to appreciate what we’ve experienced. Therefore the daily pause in meditation to stop things and survey and ask God for forgiveness for our wrong choices and for guidance back on the path.

Tools of the Trade

September 22, 2020

Anne Lamott said, It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty, bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds they’re enough.

I am encouraged by Lamott’s thought. I also thought adults must be so smart and, well, mature. Then as I grew, I started noticing cracks in the facade. They were not always trustworthy. Sometimes there was anger rather than wisdom. Sometimes grown men acted like little boys. Sometimes grown women acted as if they were still in junior high school.

Sometimes I saw all of that in me. It was disturbing.

I found that I was just feeling my way along. Growing some here, slipping back there. Then while reading about people throughout history, I saw that they also struggled.

Reading the early Christians from Paul and James and John up through the Desert Fathers, Ambrose, Jerome, until Augustine, I am fascinated by their struggles to understand this new reality brought through Jesus. So, I don’t feel so unique in my struggles to understand.

I just must take those “rusty, bent old tools–friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty–and” do the best I can.

Learn For Love

September 21, 2020

Moreover, love itself, which binds us together in the bond of unity, would have no means of pouring soul into soul, and, as it were, mingling them with each other, if human beings never learned anything from one another. —Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

Zena Hitz says in her book, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, about the quote above, “Augustine says that our ability to love one another depends on our capacity to learn from one another. That suggests that we learn in order to love.”

Learning requires setting aside time to get to know someone. This is not something you do by scanning their feeds on Facebook or Instagram. There is a person behind that facade.

Learning requires listening. To listen truly means not only using time, but also attention and focus. Attention must be on the other. Reaction to what is said may come later, but that must not be where the attention lives in the moment.

Learning about does not necessarily mean agreeing with.

A person whom God loves resides in that skin. Learning can always happen. If we let it.

[Two notes. First, a reminder that I am linking books to which supports your local independent book seller. Second, Hitz’ book is definitely not about intellectual snobbery. She’s been there, done that, and left it behind. It’s about learning as a path to growing as a person.]

God’s Will

September 18, 2020

What is God’s Will?

I enjoyed Andy Stanley’s teaching series on the God of the No Testament where he looked at ways we view God and Jesus that are not in the Bible. I had thought of many of those and pondered them, but I’m no Andy Stanley and never put them into a series of teachings with a cute title.

We humans have devised many views of God’s will. We didn’t get something we wanted from Vending-Machine-God and tell ourselves, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will that I get it.” Someone dies, we say it must have been God’s will. We may ask, what is God’s will for my next job?

Some people imagine a remote, judgmental God who exerts his will on us to punish us or to drive us toward some decision.

Reading in Thomas Merton recently, I came across this thought

In all the situations of life the “will of God” comes to us not merely as an external dictate of impersonal law but above all as an interior invitation of personal love…We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good.

New Seeds of Contemplation

What a marvelous thought to digest. As in, take the thought into ourselves, ruminate on it, let it become part of ourselves giving us energy.

How did the Apostle John put it…God is Love.

Imagine how it would re-orient our attitude, our direction, our life if we could but bring that love which is God’s will into the very core of our being!


September 17, 2020

There was a virtual conference this week from a software company I follow. In a normal year, I would be in Folsom, California attending the conference physically. But, we all know about normal.

The company’s products tie together into different modules. One module they specifically emphasized as foundational important to understand the complete software solution was called Perspective.

I thought, “What an important word…and attitude.” In my first drawing class, the instructor taught perspective as we prepared to draw an object in 3D. It was the point of view of the observer in relation to the object. We must choose the right point of view in order to render the object for maximum information.

Sometimes we use the term as the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. We talk about “gaining” perspective. Or perhaps said as changing our point of view to gain a better understanding.

I will teach beginning soccer referees that when players are challenging for the ball, the referee will find themselves bringing focus down to the feet and the ball. But we have to learn to broaden our perspective first to take in the entire bodies of the players and then with experience we learn to broaden our perspective still further to see several players and see the play develop until we have the challenge. We are so much more ready to determine who will be fouling whom with perspective.

And I thought, this is a human condition. We will find ourselves focusing on events or situations ever more narrowly. So much so, that we fail to see the bigger picture of motivations and who gains advantage over whom and what the likely outcomes will be.

Perhaps you’re like me and need a constant reminder that striving for God’s perspective means changing our own perspective–even if it hurts.

Cause and Effect, Part Two

September 16, 2020

I wrote earlier this week about God’s logic of cause and effect. What we do causes certain effects upon us. Good or bad.

It’s inevitable. If we continue to pursue an unhealthy lifestyle, we will become ill. If we meditate and pray daily, our outlook on life will improve.

But, let’s admit it, we humans also turn this cause and effect thinking around. We think, if we pray to God, we expect an effect. I want this, and I want it now. OK, God, I’m waiting not-so-patiently for your granting of my wish.

I call this “vending-machine God”. Put in your payment (prayer) and receive your little bag or cup of goodies.

But, when God created the universe and everything in it, he also created some laws to keep it going. Cause and effect is one.

Humans have been trying to buy God’s favor forever. Sacrifices, magic, religions. None worked.

We might as well turn our attention to living with God. We know the disciplines and the attitudes. We just have to practice them. And as Merton said in the passage I quoted yesterday, patience will come. We will see into our motivations. And we will find ourselves part of God and letting God do for us what he will.

When I began meditating for this brief post, I began with how frustrated we all are waiting for this SARS-CoV-2 virus to run its course and go away. We can’t see it; we can’t hear it; we don’t always see the effects. Now, more than ever, we need to live with cause-and-effect and reside in God’s kingdom. That’s the place where we serve others instead of demanding to be served.