Mindfull, Mindful

Has anyone else notice an explosion in the use of the word “mindfulness”?  It seems that every topic – secular or spiritual – all have the term “mindful” in the title. Mindful Eating. Mindful Parenting. Mindful Gardening.  Even “mindful meditation”. (Really? Isn’t all meditation mindful? Apparently not.)

Turns out mindfulness is more than being aware; it’s about bringing all of our energy, being fully present – body, attention, emotion – to what we are doing.  And the payoff is that we find our self in a sacred moment.  As I am beginning to learn it, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhât Hanh saw us in North America being so busy racing around that we weren’t fully living.  Our bodies were busy, racing from one thing to the next, our minds were doing the same thing, preoccupied, flitting from one idea to the next, we were missing the point of it all.

mindfulness_poster_UK

We are so busy Doing, we are not Being, we are unaware of the sacred and precious that which is present in that moment.  With mindfulness, we are “training the monkey-mind”; pretty accurate, eh?

If we know it’s bad for our body and our mind and our emotional well-being, to be running all the time, why do we do it?  I wonder if we’ve “drunk the kool-aid” believing that “time is money”, so to waste either makes us somehow “less than”?  Does doing three things at once, or squeezing in one more activity, moving onto the next task before we’ve quite finished the one we’re on, make us more worthy?  How do you feel when you are multi-tasking? How does it affect your zest for life?

 

As I am learning, Mindfulness invites us bring all of our awareness to one task at a time.  To focus our mind, all of our body’s energy, all of our heart’s connection to What We Are Doing, right now; beginning with the breath, to slow everything down and focus On This Moment.  Harder than it sounds. That’s why it’s called a “practice”; we must try and try again. But it is worth the effort.

For example, I confess that often when I’m knitting I am thinking about something else.  But as I practice mindful knitting, when the monkey-mind is dampened, 123rf 4752720-close-up-shot-of-two-hands-knitting-with-red-yarn

I become fully present to what I am doing right now. I see how amazing the body is: that I can breathe without thinking about it, that my eyes can see, that the hand is so very intricate. I notice how the yarn feels slipping across fingers, the variances in depth of colour and texture. I feel profound amazement as I bring all my mind and heart to what my hands are doing.  I become aware of all the elements, creatures, and people which have been involved in bringing the yarn to me, and having the money to buy it; I am brought to deep gratitude.  When I am practicing mindfulness, fully present to the moment I am in, I become awed; I touch the reality of Being Alive and connected, and am touched by the Sacred.  Harder than it sounds, but worth the practice. And  I am only just beginning.

 

 

*Thanks to uhs.umich.edu for the great “Mind-full or Mindful” image! and 123rf-4752720 for “hands knitting”

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Ever Wondering

EW confI spent the weekend at a conference which explored what it means to have an “expansive spirituality” beginning by asking “Ever Wonder…”: what are the values on which I make my life choices? how do I understand, or even begin answering for myself, Life’s Big Questions? How, and with whom, do we sustain the counter-cultural values and vision of this world being more just, loving and peace-full than it is now?  what it means to answer those questions without traditional – maybe without any – religious language and images?  

Do you find yourself asking what’s life about?  Why are we here? What kind of world do I want, and want my younger family and friends, to live in? How, and with whom, do I help build that? And how do I know something is true?  Who, or what, am I in relationship with what is beyond me – Planet Earth, the others with whom we inhabit it, with whatever or whoever is beyond our planet home?

Those are spiritual questions.  How we answer those questions form our belief system.  And our beliefs ground our choices in life, how we behave towards our self, towards others, towards our Home of Planet Earth.

What do you base your values and choices in life on? 

Religionless spirituality isn’t a new thought.  It’s been around in Western scholarly spiritual work at least since the 1940s.  One well-respected, highly educated, German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, asked if humanity has developed to a point of requiring a “religionless Christianity”?  From around the same time to now, other deep thinkers – from Roman Catholic monks to secular humanists – have offered non-traditional ways of asking and answering those questions.

This conference is part of this ‘chain of tradition’.  Can one be Christian without the so-called “must-believe” doctrines, and mythical stories?  What does it mean to be on a spiritual journey without requiring belief in any dogma, or an ‘outside agent’?  What does it mean to have an expansive spirituality?  And how does any of this help me to live my day-to-day life?  And with whom can I struggle those question into a place that is Life-enhancing for myself, others, the planet?

Do you have those conversations? How and with whom?  I am fortunate that, through my professional duties, I often get to be part of those conversations.  I am honoured to be asked to share my experience, strength and hope (to borrow a phrase) of what gives my meaning and purpose to my life, what supports & sustains my belief that Life is Good, that love is better than hate, that the way things are is not the way they have to be, that the world can be a more just, loving and peace-full place for all of Earth’s inhabitants.  And, since I was 23, what I share doesn’t resemble what I was taught as a child. (That story’s for another time.)

So thanks, folks who created the “Ever Wonder” conference.  These are necessary questions as we wonder together how we shall live for the common good.

Charlottesville is also here

For two weeks I’ve been hearing about Charlottesville, VA: the event itself, analysis, the hand-wringing about ‘how could this happen?’, could it happen in Canada?  Really?  That’s a real question?  For two weeks I’ve been trying to find a way to explain my non-surprise.

The good thing about all of this is, my work is about seeking the sacred in the everyday. Easy: The Sacred brings us to Life in its Fullness, always moving us forward and so the Sacred has been at work as we lament the events and begin to confess our part in why they happen.

The violence at Charlottesville is only the latest manifestation of the “why”.  The hatred, the frustration and the violence that was evident in those events is what happens when we allow a culture to persist in which “some people don’t count”.  For the “white nationalists” people of colour don’t – or shouldn’t – count, especially in making policy and setting direction for “their” nation. For those who oppose that racism, and the prejudices that fuels it, there’s a fine line between saying “those ideas are not worthy of us” and “those people don’t count”. All of the violence is spawned by the same force.

When we persist with a culture in which “some people don’t count” we end up with: residential schools, not caring that hundreds of women have gone missing or been murdered (Indigenous & non-) especially when they are street-level sex workers. We end up arguing about whether or not people can wear conspicuously religious symbols at work.  An unfair taxation system which favours those with money to invest and handicaps those whose incomes are used entirely to pay bills and to make ends meet.  It’s what allows a citizen to use weapons against those whose ways make them feel threatened.  When we allow a culture in which “some people don’t count” we end up low wages for ECE workers,  overloaded child protection services, policing that racializes crime (that’s what racial profiling is), and civic policy that criminalizes poverty (that’s the anti-panhandling laws).  It’s why there is an increasing call for programs to teach how not to bully (that’s another blog…).  So, really, are we so surprised that events like those in Charlottesville happen?

But when we are open to the Sacred, which like our culture, is all around us…and within us, musingsfromaministerswife com 1 Jn 4

we move towards becoming our Best Selves; we get to let go of that being scared of the unfamiliar.

 

We stop making an “Us” and “The Other”.  When the Sacred is moving in us, we are moved to behave as if we truly believe Everyone Counts.

But it’s hard work.  Look around you, within you, see who has become, to you, the “ones who don’t count” (we all have them); then work towards seeing them as humans who do count. Because until we do that Charlottesville will just keep happening.

We Are a Part of It All

accuweather comMy heart was touched by a scientist talking about the full solar eclipse that is happening over the continental USA on Monday.  Like the Aura borealis and meteor showers, which he also mentioned, we are fascinated by spectacular natural phenomena.  He said “It fascinates us. It brings us closer to the Universe.”

It does fascinate us; hours of reports and commentary on TV and radio, links on mainstream webpages to science-based sites, inches of print, all encouraging us to “witness this rare event”.  Experts say a full eclipse hasn’t happened this close to western Canada in about 100 years; no wonder they, and we, are excited.

Along the “path of totality”, only a few hours of driving south of us, people will experience a deep twilight at noon, and maybe a phenomenon called “the Ring of Fire”, a halo around the sun.  The eclipse is highly unusual, out of the ordinary; it’s also out of our control, which makes it a little scary.  Another scientist said “it’s a mysterious, almost spiritual, experience.”

It should fascinate us.  The ancients explained such events as the result of actions of human-like beings who lived in, or above, the sky. With their science they could predict such events in the heavens (think Stonehenge), but they still stopped business-as-usual; they realized something important was happening.  They believed they were being affected by Someone, or Something, beyond themselves and they stopped their regular lives, and did actions so the gods would be happy and return the sun.  Another scientist said “The ancients had a sense of fear and awe; we have no fear, but the awe remains.”

We should be in awe. Just because we can explain such events with our science,  if only for a few minutes, we realize that something beyond our small, finite, mortal selves is at work in the Universe.  Agronomists are watching how crops will be affected by the prolonged darkness; NASA is watching for how clouds are affected.  During this eclipse, if only for a few minutes, we finite human beings experience that we are all part of a larger Universe.  We discover a connection to a web of Creation, by which we are interconnected.

That is the spiritual experience, to feel that connection. To experience within our body and heart and mind that we are part of The More.*   Even many secular scientists experience this awe, wonder and connection and invite us to the experience. We don’t have to imagine the gods turning out the light to feel the Awe and Wonder, to be reminded that Human Beings are not in control of all things; we are only a part of it.  Such Awe and Wonder just may help some of us to regain our proper perspective, stop behaving as if we are in control of all things, and realize that we are only a part.  But we are a part of it All, Something Larger, connected to The More.  And it is The More, which is worthy of my awe and wonder and worship.

youtube comI don’t have to understand the eclipse like a child, but I can experience the Awe & Wonder like a child.   And offer a prayer of thanks.

 

 

*thanks to Dr. Marcus Borg for that phrase to describe the Holy Mystery, in The Heart of Christianity, 2004;

thanks also to accuweather.com for the picture Ring of Fire, and the 2nd picture from images.google.com, Source Unknown

Plucking the Chickens

One of my favourite memories of living in McCord, SK was helping process chickens in July. I was thinking of this alot this past week as I have been intentionally reflecting many experiences I have had in the past five years.  I find that having an experience – concrete, or emotional, in person or as a result of reading a book or watching a movie – is kind of like eating meat.   P1000732

You don’t kill a chicken then swallow it whole; you process it.  You kill and bleed, pluck and clean it, (even the pin feathers) prepare and cook it, then you chew it and swallow – or else you could get very sick or choke on it.  Same thing with experiences; whether light and fun, or on which has taken heart-and soul-energy, unless the experience is “processed”, I can get very sick.  (Some people take, or want to take, their own life because they were unable to process a memory enough, or get rid of the pain from it.)  I don’t want to get sick because I haven’t taken the time, or the energy, to process and chew on these many experiences (even the good ones, which are by far the majority).  On sabbatical, now I have both.

 

There’s a story about a man who, returning to his ancestral home, found himself processing some of his memories; some good, others not so good, some of how he betrayed family, others of times he had been hurt by them.  One night he found himself wrestling with them. He tossed and turned so much, it was as if he were wrestling with a man. Just before dawn he pinned his adversary to the ground, and demanded that he be given a blessing before he let go.  When the man got up in the morning, even knowing he had been blessed by the Holy One, he found he was tired from the wrestling, and that his hip had been injured in the process; in fact, he limped for the rest of his life.  (You may know the story as “Jacob wrestles an Angel” or “When Jacob became Israel”.)  That’s what happens when we process memories; we wrestle them – even the good ones – until we receive their blessing for us.  We are touched by the Sacredness of Life, and are forever changed by the process.

Writing is one of the ways that I review and pluck and clean an experience; sharing this blog is one way that I chew and swallow them.  So thank you for sharing with me this process (that sometimes feels alot like “Chicken Day”).   I may not need to share the “what”, focusing instead on the goodness, the challenges and learnings, the growth, the sacredness, with which I have been blessed as a result of the wrestling and processing.

And blessed I have been, in abundance, and changed.  I still have more questions than answers from them. So please, leave comments and your answers to questions that remain.  Then you can be my angel, and I will continue to be blessed with learning and growth, and sacredness.

Ruminate, Recalibrate, Renew

compass wendybattino comI know I’m not the only one, but I have times when a day is so “busy” I can hardly remember what I’ve done in it, which end is up; times when I wish I slow down the pace of life so I can take a deep breath and take stock.  Sometimes I wish I had the time and the energy – at the same time – just to chew on an idea that’s been floating in and out of consciousness.  I want to step out of “regular time” with all that “has to be done” and be in a different kind of time,  in which I can just Be.

I do have those moments – when I remember to make time for them, when I am willing to let go of what I have become convinced are “have-to-dos”.  They give me a sense of connection to all that is; touch the infinite.  In these moments everything is whole and balanced, (sometimes it’s called ‘kairos’ time)*.  You probably have them too.  That quiet of the very early morning, sitting at night watching the stars, a child sleeping.  It’s that moment at the end of yoga, the ‘resting’ pose.  In kairos time, I remember, as a colleague once put it, that I am “a  human Being, not a human Doing”.

Lots of images: compasses need to be re-calibrated to True North. Wilderness time to let go of distractions that hold one captive. Leaving a field fallow to give the land a chance to renew.  Making Sabbath – a time to “do no work” – those chores that lead us into that go-go-go pace – and reorient to the vision of how the world could be if Compassion was our guiding principle for our actions.  Steeping oneself in Living Water, being nourished by Bread of Life.  A time to understand the holy message: Do not fear.

So this leave I am on is your gift to me of time away from “regular duties”.  It am offered the freedom to make space for this kairos time.  It’ll be like slowing down the merry-go-round – not because the ride isn’t enjoyable, but to see who else is on it, explore what other features there are, be fascinated by the tune of the calliope. A time to reboot, to nourish my spirit, mind and body which (like most other people) the run-of-life interferes with.

The “plan” is to ruminate on ideas I’ve only had a chance to skim; literally to chew on ideas that are trying to germinate.  To renew some disciplines in order to harness my energy differently so I can use it more effectively in my service here. To clear out some of the physical and internal detritus that makes me feel separated from the Holy, that inhibits me (or at least makes me unsure and unsteady) “shining my little light” in a good way. To recalibrate to my call of being here.

You folks of Cornerstone have given me this gift of sabbatical time; I do not take lightly.  I am profoundly grateful for this time to renew, to reboot, and be ready to come back to the work that I am called here to do.  Thank you.

~ ~ ~

*Mckinely Valentine has a great blog on “Kairos time”, which she describes as “the moment  after you’ve inhaled and are just about to exhale”; check it out mckinleyvalentine.com/kairos

** Image from: wendybattino.com

 

 

Draw the Circle Wider

When I started this blog, my aim was to share experiences I’d had of encountering “the holy”, sacred moments that have I noticed during just regular day-to-day living.vigil  Easy work when we look at nature, or when groups of people have responded spontaneously with great compassion and kindness to a disaster.
But this week, the place I’ve encountered a holy presence the most has been in seeing the tenacity of people to stand up in favour of right relationships, in solidarity with those who are feeling overwhelmed, really trying to come together and see people as being of equal value.  And in making a stand – one more time – against action and beliefs that try to pull us apart from one another.

Example: I, like many others, was profoundly sad at the mass shooting at the university-of-toronto-quebec-mosque-vigilmosque in Ste-Foy QC; not only that it happened while people were at prayer but that it happened at all.  But with increasing rhetoric of superiority and fear-mongering I wasn’t surprised. (So much for needing other people to ‘pass a test on Canadian values’…). Where I experienced holiness was in the reactions and gatherings of thousands of people across the country – including in Manitoba – in support of this hurting community.  Just “regular Canadians” standing up with a hurting community and saying “this kind of hate is not ok!”

Example: the march for human rights, in Winnipeg. Not just supporting them but restating that our strength in Canada comes from the work (and, I daresay, love of participants-at-saturday-s-walk-wfpneighbour) it takes to respect the variety of gift of differences in ethnicity and cultural heritages, of religious expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, political viewpoints, and even levels of humour.  (The humour and ‘lightness’ of Groundhog Day reports helped me to stay balanced, reminding me that the heaviness of everything else isn’t the only thing happening in the world.)

Example: the social media campaigns #dress like a woman and #deleteUber

Example: people putting aside their sense of personal hurt to share the hurt of a grieving family.

If I had only one sentence to describe where and how I experienced holiness this week, it would be “the tenacity for respect and the resiliency it brings”.

These are concrete actions of hope. When we respect, we acknowledge the other’s value as a ‘neighbour’, a ‘child of God’.  We make time and spaces to hear their pain and fear and hope. As we hear one another, we learn from each other, and we build a society that is truly more inclusive.  We make the Circle wider.

When we are tenacious to the hope that our society is one where justice (being in relationships of balanced power) flows like a might river, and righteousness (right action towards each other) like an ever-flowing stream, we experience ‘being a holy community’, and God-is-among-us. (Not an original thought; it’s from the Hebrew prophet, Amos.)  We build each other up after the hurt to be whole, to be better, together. We make the Circle wider.

(Thanks to Gordon Light/Common Cup Company for the title – great song! and to cbcnews.ca for the pix, accessed GoogleImages Feb 4/17)