Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Practicing In Solidude

April 24, 2019

There was a group of violin students. Some were very good. Others were OK. Still a third group was found lacking in skill.

The teacher asked how long each student spent practicing alone before coming to orchestra practice.

It should be no surprise. The best violin players devoted the most time to practicing in solitude. The worst of the group spent the least amount of time alone in practice.

Perhaps if you feel your spiritual formation is lacking, you need to spend more time alone in solitude in meditation, prayer, and study.

Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I will spend my first three hours daily in prayer.”

When We’ve Been Deceived

April 23, 2019

I also study nutrition. Don’t practice as well as I should, but I try.

Listened to a podcast where a nutritionist was discussing some recent research. Turns out that both sourdough bread (because it’s fermented) and Pumpernickel bread (rye flour) have many benefits to the biome and brain.

I told my wife about the podcast. She bought a loaf of Pumpernickel at the grocery.

The ingredients–wheat flour, bunch of chemicals, “less than 2% rye flour”. The dark color? Comes from molasses. Real Westphalian Pumpernickel hails from that region of Germany. It is made from rye flour in a special process with a starter similar to sourdough.

You wonder how Pepperidge Farms gets away with calling its creation Pumpernickel. Is it just the American manufactured food way of diluting real food giving you more of the calories and less of the nutrition?

Just like shopping for nutritious food, selecting teachers and leaders is the same.

Discerning who is made from the real stuff and who offers twice the hype with less of substance is crucial to a good life and deep spiritual practice.

We are so easily deceived. And social media make it so easy to spread fake facts and deceit. But before that were the TV evangelists. Before that the “Traveling Medicine Shows”.

Better to practice discernment–a key spiritual discipline. Read the fine print. Take in real food.

Grow Your Brain

April 22, 2019

Myth: You only use 10% of your brain.

Myth: Your brain stops growing after you reach adulthood.

Your brain can continue to grow until you die. And you have influence over either growing or atrophying.

I’ve read several books on brain science. Some get pretty involved and technical.

Here is a book that combines brain science written by a PhD neuroscientist who has devoted a lifetime (so far) researching the brain with practical advice for your own personal brain development. The book is approachable for anyone. Younger students, even.

Healthy Brain, Happy Life: A Personal Program to Activate Your Brain & Do Everything Better, by Wendy Suzuki, PhD.

Here’s a hint about a great deal of the story–she is both a leading neuroscience researcher as a full professor at NYU and a certified fitness instructor.

The foundation of the story is neuroscience. But the real story is one of personal development about how she discovered how exercise leading to better eating leading to meditation leading to developing a spiritual side all played a part in her growth. And led to more research in the lab on brain plasticity–how it continues to grow.

It goes to show scientifically that spiritual practices must involve the entire body. And, in so doing, your brain can retain some youthfulness and you can have a better life.

Perhaps we could think of these bullet points as sort of a progression layering upon each other for personal development:

  • Knowledge
  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Meditation
  • Spiritual development
  • (Iterate)

Get the book, digest it, pick some of her practical tips for implementing the lesson. Grow your brain and grow your life.

It Strikes a Chord

April 19, 2019

This is Good Friday, part of Easter weekend. Christians celebrate this time because without the death and resurrection of Jesus, his teachings would be similar to the Stoics (his contemporaries in Rome).

But–this leads to problems of understanding. We have a concept of Trinity, something not explained in the Bible. Jesus gave us the idea of God as Father. He talked about God’s Spirit dwelling in people. The former was new. The latter is as old as the worship of the Creator God. But then, what to make of Jesus himself.

As an Enneagram Five, I try to understand things intellectually. But with a strong Four influence, I’m moved emotionally by music.

A singer/songwriter (from the Christian group Jars of Clay who is also a Five with a strong Four wing) said understanding the three can best be done aurally as a triad. Don’t try intellectually. Just listen for it.

It’s like a music chord. In the key of C major, for example, you play the notes C-E-G simultaneously. Each of the notes exist individually. But they resonate together.

When my grandson’s middle school jazz band hit their first chord to open the program, it was like, “Wow, this is a fantastic sound.” The writer of the piece, the conductor who brought the band together, and the musicians all coming together each playing a part of that chord. It was powerful.

That is a far superior metaphor than any intellectual logic you could try to reason through.

Dignity and Respect

April 18, 2019

She is a trim, properly attired sports mom enthroned in her canvas chair watching her child’s event.

Then she opens her mouth. All manner of vulgar and vile epithets spew forth directed at the person officiating the game.

He holds a position of importance within the community. Yet, his actions and attitudes towards his subordinates are well known for their meanness. “You should respect me because of my position,” he repeats.

The lack of dignity with which these people act speaks louder than any words. Who will respect them? No one!

We are each in control of our actions and attitudes which reflects the dignity with which we live.

Respect is bestowed upon us (or not) depending upon that dignity.

Acting and speaking with dignity can be a spiritual practice–meaning something we work at.

We determine our dignity; respect is earned.

We are reminded to not confuse the two.

It Is A Matter of Lifestyle

April 17, 2019

Have you ever seen a thin person drinking a diet soda?

Want to reduce risk of hypertension or Type 2 Diabetes by losing weight? Diet soda won’t cut it. Have a medical check up to assure it isn’t a medical problem. Then change lifestyle.

Stock the refrigerator with vegetables and the pantry with real foods. Substitute unsweetened iced tea for soda at the sandwich shop. Start walking every day.

It’s not a diet. It’s not a miracle pill. It’s a matter of a change of lifestyle.

Have you ever met a religious person (not in the Catholic sense) who quotes rules yet is just as obnoxious as before conversion?

It’s not a list of dos and don’ts. It’s a lifestyle.

Daily practices of mediation, prayer, service–and a little fun.

Cool thing is…you can start today with both of these. Just one day at a time and the next thing you know, you’ve created a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Quick To Voice Opinion, Often Wrong

April 16, 2019

“Christianity Under Attack!” Thus screamed a Tweet yesterday.

Like most of the Western world and anyone who has visited Paris, I watched pictures stream across my screen of the devastating fire in the Notre Dame with deep feelings of shock and sadness.

I read where the fire chief of Paris was still determining the cause. A good chance a spark from renovation construction work ignited the ancient wooden beams. But, who knows?

So where did that Tweet originate? And others similar–many of which dredged up memories of 9/11?

But I pondered, why rush so quickly to judgement when we know nothing?

A human failing, that is. (To channel my inner Yoda.)

I’m sure we all have been guilty at some point. We look at a person and judge them only to discover when we actually meet them that they are entirely different.

Maybe it’s just my personality type versus other personality types? Or maybe we of all personality types need to practice the habit of pausing, breathing, considering before spreading hype on our social media platform of choice.

And I see by the morning news that 1) officials are still searching for a cause and 2) $300 million has already been pledged to restore the building and 3) much artwork and relics were saved.

Still, I’m left with shock and sadness at the loss. As, I am sure, are many millions.

Concern Yourself With Changing Yourself

April 15, 2019

Sitting in meditation the thought visited me. A remembrance, really. A time when some well meaning people promoted the idea of a Meditation Day wherein every person in the world who meditates would meditate at exactly the same time. The power of all these “spiritual vibrations” would change the world.

Maybe I even participated.

Problem is that you don’t meditate to save the world. You meditate to change you.

The next thought that visited me was how often we concern ourselves with changing others. By force, if we must.

Take a scan of world news. Examples of people of one religion (or an anti-religion which is sort of a religion) seeking to control, change, or even eradicate those of another.

Ah, the lust for power and control. Ego and pride. It’s everywhere.

When the whole point is changing ourselves. And by changing ourselves, we show others a path to God.

I once shared a quote from the German poet Thomas Mann to engineers. They took it literally, of course. But this is a metaphor for our spiritual lives and attitudes:

If everyone swept in front of their own door, then the whole world would be clean.

Meditate on that.

Giving and Receiving

April 12, 2019

Some people just cannot give.

Who knows why? Perhaps they thought they were poor when they grew up and now they have something. Or maybe some other deep need.

But they want to keep what they have.

Some people receive from others with the attitude of entitlement.

Who knows why? Perhaps they were given so much as a child that they just expect it. Or perhaps they grew up envious of what other people had and now think that they are owed.

It doesn’t matter. It’s all about attitude. And attitudes can be changed with a discipline of mindfulness mediation.

Blessed are those who can give without remembering and receive without forgetting.

Finding Fear

April 11, 2019

There exist people who see their job in life to seek out things and people to fear. Not content to just seek people groups to fear, they must spread the fear as far as possible.

Fear breeds hatred.

We must cultivate the awareness to discern which are the true things to fear and which are merely in the minds and guts of those spreading hate and fear.

Reflective experience and education help us individually toward discernment. We can see when someone has been bamboozled and tune them out.

This need for discernment is ancient in humans. That’s why the fable of Chicken Little preaching “the sky is falling” was created. It spoke to the need to seek out the wise.

We can find fear everywhere. And along with that, we can find groups of people to hate. This feeling and those actions are everywhere in the world today.

Our spiritual practice of this age is intentionally developing awareness and discernment. Start with a breath.