Achieve and Maintain Balance

May 20, 2020

You may have seen the classic Yoga pose called Tree. The model stands on one foot. The other foot is pressed firmly against the inner thigh with the knee pointing out toward the side. Both hands are pressed together and lifted straight above the head. The body forms a supple line rooted on the mat and reaching toward the sky.

Balance, focus, awareness, relaxation

This looks so graceful. The continued practice of Tree teaches balance.

But balance does not come easily. Your toes are gripping the mat for rootedness. Your abs and lower back are engaged for body stability. Your shoulders are relaxed, for tension destroys balance.

I recently listened to a neuroscientist discuss the impact of various famous chemicals in the brain. Cortisol, called the stress hormone, wakes you up in the morning and gets you going.

The neurotransmitter dopamine (you’ve heard of getting a shot of dopamine when you achieve something) gets you moving forward toward a goal. You finish a 5K run or that paper you’ve been working on and you have reinforced dopamine.

Serotonin, also a positive reinforcing neurotransmitter, activates when you feel the warmth of relationships or bonding. Serotonin along with oxytocin peak within nursing mothers.

Andrew Huberman, PhD, researches these things. He stated that the most successful people are those who can balance the dopamine and serotonin during the day. Drive on dopamine from morning until afternoon to achieve goals. Then go home and play with the kids and activate serotonin.

He discovered through brain chemistry research paired with behavior what the ancient people knew through observing themselves and other people.

Balance is the essential foundation of a successful life.

Perfection Is The Enemy

May 19, 2020

I wrote yesterday about first-century Christian, Hermas’s, response to his teacher who gave him 12 commandments for life following Jesus. He was overwhelmed considering how to live out all those teachings.

He was told to relax, step back, and not be overwhelmed. You just begin living the life.

Trying to be perfect, especially at the beginning, is the enemy of good.

People hear about meditating. Maybe just for health. Maybe for enlightenment. Maybe just to calm down in their stress of staying home amidst Covid-19.

They then get distracted. Should I get a Buddhist meditation pillow? Do I need to light a candle? Should the room be dark? Is there a special music to play? What if I can’t sit still for an hour? Half-hour? Five minutes?

Jesus suggested to Martha that she was distracted by many things. Calm down and choose the right thing.

For goodness sake, the Buddha meditated under a tree. Brother Lawrence meditated peeling potatoes and repairing sandals. A suggestion—read The Practice of the Presence of God.

You can sit anywhere. Or lie on your back or curled in fetal position. Or while walking (just keep your eyes open). You can touch your thumb to your first finger, or second finger, or not at all. You can burn incense…or not. You can rest for 5 minutes or 120.

My favorite old Zen teaching—Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

There is no perfect. There is just doing. Or, in this case, not-doing.

If You Think You Can

May 18, 2020

The Shepherd finished instructing his student Hermas, a Roman Christian of the late first or early second century, in the twelve commandments of discipleship—ways of living the with-God life.

“If you follow these, you will have life,” said the Shepherd.

“But these are hard,” protested Hermas, “how is a mortal man able to follow these.”

“If you propose to yourself that they can be kept, you will keep them easily and they will not be hard. But if the idea that they cannot be kept by a human has already entered your heart, you will not keep them.”

We think psychology and positive thinking and attitude were all invented in the 20th Century. Here it is presented as ancient wisdom 2,000 years ago.

Maintain a positive attitude and living the life of repentance pleasing to God is easy. Think it is impossible, then you will never achieve. Your choice.

This is as true for surviving our current situation as for following God’s way.

Choose wisely.

There Are Two Spirits

May 15, 2020

Just like when I am afflicted by my allergies to pollens, my head is stuffy. I am drowsy. I cannot concentrate. I may stare into space (more than usual).

Then I rinse the allergens from my nasal passages. I am awake, alert, focused.

From ancient times we are taught about two spirits. One to beware and the other to cultivate.

The one a spirit that exalts itself and wants to have a seat of honor, and immediately is arrogant and shameless and talkative and well-acquainted with many luxuries and with many other pleasures.

The other, the divine spirit, is gentle and quiet and humble, and stays away from all evil and futile desires of this age, and considers himself poorer than others, and gives no answer to anyone when consulted unless speaking the words of God.

How do we all measure up? How about the leaders we follow? Are we challenged to change?

Flush out the allergens through study, prayer, meditation, gathering with encouraging people. Wake up.

Awareness of the Power of God

May 14, 2020

One lesson took many years to sink in for me—that an English word often has multiple meanings. I would often latch firmly onto one meaning only to realize later that there is a different, richer, more accurate meaning.

Fear, as in fear of the Lord, is one such word for me.

I would read Fear the Lord and my mind would picture afraid. Understanding of another, richer, meaning took some time to achieve.

According to Pope Francis, “The fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father that always loves and forgives us,…[It] is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace.”

Therefore, when I read the Shepherd’s Seventh Commandment to his disciple Hermas, I have deeper understanding.

Fear the Lord and keep his commandments. By keeping his commandments, you will be powerful in every deed, and your activity will be beyond criticism. For when you fear the Lord, you will do everything well.

The Shepherd of Hermas

That has a meaning something like be constantly aware of the power and closeness of God that by following his ways you will be powerful and beyond criticism.

Therefore, I am pained and disappointed when I read Christians words and intents that seem to deny the power of God. Some are living in fear (the afraid kind) and not with awareness of God’s power. Some seem to feel that God is powerless and they must force their views on others.

This, especially, is a time for “joyful awards of God’s grandeur” along with “grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace.”

A self-centered and coddled generation is unprepared for facing adversity with perseverance and true peace.

Be Firm In Your Disciplines

May 13, 2020

Ancient teaching on discipleship warns us not to be “double-minded”.

The Greek means “of two minds” and is usually taken to mean don’t waver in your decisions and understanding.

I take it in one usage to mean that if I interpret one part of the New Testament in a certain way, then I must interpret all of it in that way. If, for example, I think that homosexuality is an unforgivable sin for others, then I must also take to heart the teaching on divorce and remarriage as it applies to me.

Or, maybe the other way around. It’s a discipline of understanding.

When we pray to God, do not pray and then waver saying, well if it doesn’t happen, it must be your will. So I ask for something but perhaps don’t really expect it. I waver in my request.

Perhaps in these days of being sequestered, I have adopted certain disciplines of regular hours, nutrition, exercise, reading, communicating. But I blow them off regularly. Not the little “cheats” of an unhealthy snack occasionally or cutting the workout short today. No, I say I have adopted the disciplines, yet do not do them.

It’s an extension of Jesus’ teaching of “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” We are two months into sequestering to prevent or retard the spread of the virus. It does work, just not instantaneously. Now, when we are tempted to drop our disciplines is just when we need them the most.

Eat well, get outside, say Hi to someone. None of us want to get sick. Take care.

Springtime Feeds A Restless Spirit

May 12, 2020

TS Eliot began a poem saying April is the cruelest month. Sometimes I think it’s May. We get teased with the heat and sun of summer and reminded of winter with snow mixed in the cold rain.

We want to be out in the parks and beaches and swimming pools, yet for half the days most years we experience rain and 40 degrees F.

And our souls become restless, yearning for the pace of summer.

To add to the restlessness, most of us are 60 days (or even more) of some type of stay-at-home order.

The books that teach us discipleship all extol the virtue of patience. But living through trying times when you are so close to the end, but not quite there, pushes our tolerance for patience to the limit.

Still, we’re not the first humans in history to live through one of these. Just humans with no one around with experience living through one this widespread. I remember stories from my grandfather of 1918. But I never imagined it happening to me.

It did.

We always recover and life goes on. And my grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about life when a virus with no known cure sweeps around the globe.

The only response we can make is search for the presence of God and maintain our daily routines. And wash our hands.

Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil

May 11, 2020

In the ancient Christian training manual for discipleship, the Shepherd instructs Hermas, “First, do not speak evil of anyone.”

A scan of social media drives home the point that perhaps there are many Christians (and everyone else) who need to also begin with this teaching. And bring this teaching into our minds and print it on our hearts.

Do. Not. Speak. Evil. Of. Anyone.

But much in the pattern of Jesus, who never stopped at the obvious, the Shepherd further instructs his pupil Hermas, “And to not enjoy listening to someone who does.”

Ouch.

Perhaps reading through social media feeds we encourage others with our “likes” and “hearts”.

In so doing, we also participate in the spreading of evil words.

Sounds like Jesus. He doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Both the speaker and the hearer are equally culpable.

Confession. The other day, I sinned. I open Facebook once a day (most days) to check notifications and wish people I know a happy birthday or offer condolences when bad times strike. Even though about 80% (or 99%) of my “friends” are fervid Trump supporters and one is a liberal, I managed to fail to contain myself and commented on one of each.

After the second comment, I logged out and didn’t return for two days. “Don’t participate” became my mantra for the week.

Maybe you, too.

Do not speak evil of others, and do not enjoy listening to those who do.

Know When To Exercise Self-Control and When Not To

May 8, 2020

The Shepherd of Hermas is a book written in the early 100s or perhaps in the 90s to teach early Christians discipleship—how to live in the days, weeks, months, or years following belief in the one God and in the resurrection of Jesus.

A being dressed as a shepherd appears to Hermas, probably an early Christian in Rome, and proceeds to guide him in the Way.

This morning I read self-control. Here’s a thought for you to ponder and incorporate into your life.

“Listen,” he said, “Be self-controlled regarding evil, and do not do it; but do not be self-controlled regarding good, but do it.”

Earlier, he had talked of opening your hands in giving.

One reason the early church added to its numbers a couple of times before becoming an official religion and therefore becoming political were the times of plague in Rome and the followers of Jesus were the ones who were generous with their time, talents, and resources helping those were the victims.

Quite a challenge, and an example, for those of us who claim to be followers and disciples today!

Boredom Is The Precursor of Creativity

May 7, 2020

We are now many weeks into captivity, er, I mean shelter-in-place or lockdown or whatever. Even though many of us are still working (I have worked from a home office for 20 years, but I miss the coffee shop), I’m picking up vibrations of boredom from my various feeds.

Someone tweeted that boredom was an evil. Something to be avoided.

In truth, boredom lets the mind roam freely. It is in such moments that creativity thoughts well up from deep inside the mind.

I tend to be mostly serious with a dry sense of humor. But there are times…

Boredom can also lead to silliness. Just goofing around we used to say.

The very dry and logical philosopher who in later life loosened up, Ludwig Wittgenstein, wrote, “If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.”

If ever there was a time for that, now is it.