Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

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.

Trust

December 22, 2020

I trust people–until (or if) they prove me wrong.

I made a list in my notebook of those who broke promises, owed me 5-figure payments, looked me in the eye while shaking hands and then acting as if no deal was ever agreed to. I looked at the list. All except one were white, Evangelical males. Interesting, if not meaningful.

At this time of year, Advent, we hear the “Christmas story” told many times.

There they were, ordinary people, trying to live a life. Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and several others. They were visited by messengers of God. They trusted. We remember them 2,023 years later. They changed the world.

Jesus trusted his Father. He invited people to follow him. Twelve guys accepted. Eleven trusted him. We remember them all.

A guy came along a bit later killing Jesus’s followers. He met Jesus. He trusted. He changed the world.

I’m sure we all have had trusts betrayed. But whom do we trust? Who doesn’t let us down.

I hope that we all are also trustworthy toward those we meet. Trust is a most important quality of character.

Reputation or Work

December 18, 2020

Have you ever met someone who has a reputation for great work only to come away disillusioned? When you can actually get a sense of the person in the flesh, they come across as full of themselves?

Abba Silvanus, a 4th Century Desert Father, said, “Unhappy is the man who’s reputation is greater than his work.”

Isn’t it refreshing to meet someone whose work you have seen whose humility is such that you walk away thinking you yourself are the valued person?

The Tao teh Ching (number two) says:

When his task is accomplished,

he lets go of it and seeks no reward or recognition.

Because he does not claim credit for himself,

his virtuous influence endures.

Do the work. Therein lies the reward.

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.

Sorry, We’re Not Perfect

December 10, 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

A man (not me) describing his wife as a “perfectionist” quipped, “Her love language is criticism.”

There exists a personality type that feels deeply that things should be perfect. This personality type loves lists of rules. Not content with merely striving for perfection, these people need rules so that they know how they stand at all times.

Held within limits, that’s just the way they are. When it gets out of balance, these lists of rules become scorecards to compare themselves to see who’s winning. They become rigid and not particularly likable. Taken further along the spectrum, this rigidity leads to mental and physical health problems.

Many people I know say, “There is a name for those people–Christians.”

For example, a pastor I had told me that he was on a team where they all took the Myers Briggs Types Indicator with the idea of knowing personality types would help them work together. He said that the entire team, every one, had a “J” at the end of their type. The description of a “J” is one of these rule followers–although the Myers Briggs falls short on having a continuum of healthy to unhealthy types.

But when I told him I was a “P”, he blurted out being astonished, “How can you call yourself a Christian?”

Well, sorry, but I made peace with not being perfect a long time ago.

The Christian Bible has a word for people of this type–Pharisee. And the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were almost all (as reported by John anyway) the unhealthy type. And Jesus was always poking at their belief.

Referring to body and soul, “You are like a cup that is washed on the outside, but inside you are dirty.”

All of us who harbor these perfectionist qualities can stay on the healthy side by recognizing it and then releasing it. Perhaps with a deep breath.

Paul, the guy who famously converted from Pharisee to Jesus-follower, wrote eloquently in both his letter to the Galatians and the letter to the Christians in Rome about growing out of that life bound up by rules and living free in the spirit.

Recognize God’s grace that leads us to stop the treadmill of trying to be perfect and judging others about their perfection, and just live in the spirit. If you are a “J”, learn to be healthy by releasing the drive to perfection.

Practice Compassion

December 9, 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

Practice?

That implies that I might not get it right the first time. Which means there will be subsequent times. Which means that I show compassion towards someone in this hour, maybe there is someone the next hour to whom I should show compassion. And perhaps I’ll do it better the next time. Practice means doing it over and over until it’s part of our being. And even then, continuing to practice.

But as I heard from a retired Naval pilot discussing his training, “It’s not ‘practice makes perfect’, it’s ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ “

A famous concert pianist was heard sitting at the piano and running through scales. What I should be doing with my guitar daily. What I should be doing with compassion always.

We cannot just practice mindlessly. Just a quick “I’m sorry” and move on. There must be a mindful quality to the practice, an intentional calling upon compassion.

Quick, what’s the shortest verse in the Christian Bible? “Jesus wept.”

Jesus mourned with the mourners.

Can we do less?

I was sitting in meditation and the thought visited me–what if, what if we all practiced compassion. What a different world it would be.

Don’t Be A Slave To Emotions

December 8, 2020

Seven Things Mindful People Do:

  1. Practicebeingcurious
  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

That moment is seared in my memory. That last time I succumbed entirely to an emotion that I allowed to completely rule over me. No amount of analysis assuages the memory of the anger and words that just came out without thought or consideration. I was instantly humiliated by the action.

Developmental psychologists have long been able to trace how we humans can progress to completely inside ourselves to the level of maturity of considering ourselves and others together. However, our news sources would dry up to a trickle of good news without the number of people acting out emotions on public stages.

As a Jesus-follower, I constantly learn how he modeled handling emotions, yet honoring them. He knew sorrow and anger, and yet channeled them in a beneficial way.

Twice yesterday I was presented with a method for mindfully handling strong emotions that could have the power (if I let them) to take over lives with sometimes devastating results. It’s called RAIN.

R=recognize (the first step of every growth pattern is awareness)

A=allow (don’t try to bury it, let it sit, recognized, realize it is a part of me)

I=investigate (what triggered it, why am I reacting)

N=non-identification (“I have this emotion, but I am not this emotion”)

[I should have mentioned yesterday, as well, that sometimes we can’t handle these things ourselves. When that happens, we need to recognize the situation and seek help from a professional.]

Forgive Yourself

December 7, 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

My mom gave me only glimpses of her life as a child. Fifth of six children, her two older brothers and two older sisters were all confident, strong, outgoing, intelligent people. Mom was talented and intelligent, but she had no confidence. She blamed herself for everything.

Just from observation, I believe that of myself and my three brothers, two of us overcame that upbringing and two didn’t. I know that it took me years.

Failure to forgive yourself, especially for imagined wrongs and shortcomings, but also for sins of omission and commission, can easily destroy a life. And the lives of those around you.

As we sit in meditation and prayer daily, we learn to look at ourselves from a different perspective. We can see those things for which we need to make amends–call that person we injured or pay back that debt; we can also see those things for which we need to just let go. Let go of the attachment to the guilt and set ourselves free. We recognize it and then realize that it is all past and all we can to is release and come back to live in just the present.

Practice Curiosity

December 4, 2020
  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

In my day as a child, a popular phrase murmured from mother to child was, “Curiosity killed the cat.”

For every child who enters the industrialized education system as a curious being, most exit as someone who has learned to memorize what the teacher expects and return it in the form of answers to The Test. Those of us who just wanted to learn because we were curious were either forced into the system or lived at the periphery.

I’m not criticizing teachers, many of whom say they want to encourage creativity. It is the system designed to prepare young people for a career as a cog in another system–first as industrial workers, then as “knowledge” workers.

Curiosity and imagination drive creative advances in science, technology, the arts. Those who buck the system and don’t mind how many of the cat’s nine lives they use up.

Mindful people practice being curious. We wonder all the time. I was curious about science things as a child. Then the curiosity settled in physics-types of things. Cars, especially engines. And electronics. Then guitars. Eventually curiosity about people leading to the study of psychology and then brain science. None of this had any relationship to school.

I got curious about spiritual writing and the people who experienced and wrote about it. And the Bible. And the historical times when the Bible was written.

To be honest, many of my brain cycles this week are devoted to curiosity about the impact of the large tech firms such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell Technologies, and Hitachi Vantara on the incumbent manufacturers in the industrial control and automation world. I absorb information, then search the Web for articles and people who can answer questions. And I think about it.

Practicing curiosity is a lifestyle. More than a habit, it is a way of living developed over time. It is intentional.

Do you wonder about God? Writers in the Bible and other places use words describing brilliant white light when referring to God. What does that mean? How am I to interpret that? Can I also experience that?

Can we use quantum physics to approximate an image of God? I’ve tried. I’m curious. I wonder.

Christians are in the Advent season. What does it mean to me, to the world, to culture, that Jesus came? That would be something to be curious about for the rest of the month.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but curiosity brings me to life.

A Mindful Advent

December 3, 2020

Advent, for Christians, is a season on the church calendar filled with traditions meant to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the coming of Jesus.

Advent, for many of the world’s cultures, is a season of bright decorations, selling and buying of gifts, and perhaps family gatherings–or the stresses of family gatherings as the case may be.

Most of this is done year after year. With busy-ness. With stress. With tradition without a thought about the meaning and development of those traditions.

I thought I’d spend a few sessions contemplating bringing mindfulness to the season.

Perhaps one at a time, we’ll explore the 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

Mindfulness requires a pause. We must pause what we are busy with, with our busy hands, our busy minds. Taking slow, easy breaths. We can lay, sit, stand, even walk mindfully. We gently bring our wandering minds back when we notice we’ve gone off. That’s OK. It’s the bringing back to awareness that is mindful.

Dwelling on Advent and Christmas in a pandemic with its loss of close family connections can add to stress. It is best to focus on the present moment and what we can do today with intention.