Hamster Wheel vs. Waterfall

I had a nice weekend, although very busy.


On Friday we drove out to Scott’s parent’s house, about 45 minutes from us and unlike our downtown city dwelling, they live on 40 acres in the country. It is such a great counter-balance to our daily life. (Both places, we equally enjoy and love.) I recently read that spending time in nature – or even listening to the sounds of nature – makes you 5% calmer. I am a believer!

Scott wanted to do some fishing and I went along as the cheerleader. However, after getting there I saw that they needed a little mowing done. I absolutely love mowing their property. They own a zero-turn riding mower that I have already claimed is the only thing I want in their will. Truly, it is like heaven to me. The noise forces me into my head to think and mull over ideas. And at the same time, there is a great deal of instant gratification, seeing the neat lines of mowed grass in my wake. A true sense of accomplishment – both internally and externally. The fact that I am also getting a good suntan while I’m at it is BONUS! 🙂 After 3+ hours I finished the sections I set out to mow and felt both physically exhausted and mentally renewed.

On Saturday, Scott and I had a bunch of our friends over to our house (the first time some of them have been there) to play games, catch up and eat lots of great food. Rachel and Brenda, in particular, are exceptional cooks and Joy walked us each through the making of some new-to-us drinks. It was a fabulous evening. Of course…like any time we have company over…I was over-the-top picky about how everything looked. We deep cleaned and rearranged and the whole time I kept saying to Scott, “I know this is ridiculous, but…” and he never questioned the absurdity of my thinking – partly because he knows me too well by now and (hopefully) he knows there is usually some method behind my madness.

On Sunday, as a result of two physically packed days, I was dead tired. I didn’t do much of anything on Sunday (Scott was up and out the door by 3:30am for work.) I generally ate crappy food all day and by the evening I was feeling the after affects of all.that.crap. I say allllllll of the above to say this: I had a mindfulness fail on Sunday evening…

The backstory is that I had a VERY unexpected, out of the blue, totally surprising heart attack when I was 45 years old. And since that time, my Panic Mode is set to ‘heart attack’. Whenever anything goes wrong, I immediately think it’s my heart. This is not a healthy way to live. And it certainly is not a good way to occupy my mind. The ‘panic’ is always internal and begins a hamster wheel of thoughts spinning in my head. (previously referred to as Monkey Mind by Dan Harris or as Anne Lamott calls it, Bad Mind.) By Sunday evening I made the simple, unimpressive comment to Scott: ‘Something feels off.’ Three words. That’s it. Three little words that represented 112,980,258,123,904,872,304,978+ words happening in my brain. For anyone who has a similar crazy mind panicky situation you know that the harder you try to relax and brush it aside, the stronger the panicky grip digs in deeper. I opted to go to bed fairly early, hoping sleep would take away the thoughts and worries.

I woke up this morning with the resolve to do myself the huge mental favor of eating healthier and getting back to learning more about meditation. I was mentally letting myself off the hook.

I bought the book, ‘Why is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling’ over the weekend and began reading it this morning. I’d like to make a separate post about some of my thoughts so far about it. The upside is that the many thoughts surrounding the book kept my mind engaged and occupied all morning.

This afternoon I put in my well-loved-but-rarely-used Tai Chi DVD. I don’t know how Tai Chi classes go or how different they all are or if I am even ‘doing it right’. But I have bonded with this DVD teacher and his methods. Quite honestly, I rarely get passed the beginning stage of Qi Gong. Someday I will feel so confident in that section that I will move on to the actual Tai Chi practice. But what usually happens is that I let too much time lapse between practices and feel like I just need to do the warm-up section for awhile to get my body used to it. Rationalization?, perhaps. But the warm-up alone opens up some creaky joints and muscles for me.

After doing the Qi Gong, I sat for a section of mindfulness from the 10% Happier app. This particular lesson was about Mental Noting. The teacher, Joseph Goldstein, talked about the thoughts that pop into our minds when we try to meditate. Instead of fighting them or ‘just let them go’, Goldstein suggested instead that we ‘just let them be.’ When we have a thought about food we can quietly ‘whisper’ in our mind one descriptive word: ‘hunger’. Or if I start thinking about my to do list for the day and what I need to get done I can think the word ‘work’. One word to correspond with the thoughts that are leading us away from our mindfulness meditation. ‘Sadness’, ‘itch’, ‘relationship’…whatever the word is that we use to describe our thoughts they work to bring us back to the moment and away from the competing thoughts. Dan Harris used the analogy of a waterfall. When we stand behind a waterfall we can see the waterfall – which represents our flowing stream of thought. When, in meditation, we are able to get out of the cascading stream of water and stand Behind the Waterfall, we can recognize the thoughts without getting caught up in them.

Mindfulness definition: The ability to know what is happening in your head right now without getting carried away by it.

Humans are classified as homo sapien sapien which means the one who thinks and knows he/she thinks.

You build your thoughtfulness muscle through mindfulness by seeing what you are thinking as only a passing thought. We can see and identify our thoughts and impulses and urges without blindly reacting to them.

One of the ‘goalposts’ that happens with me when I am spending a couple of minutes meditating…but doesn’t always happen…is when there is a few moments of silence then the leader says something and scares.me.to.death -ha! I am so concentrated on the here and now that I am startled by the person guiding the meditation. Without fail, I feel better about everything after meditating. Whether it’s psychological or physical – or both – it doesn’t matter. There are endorphins and a general sense of peace that happens each time.

As someone who has been deeply immersed in Christianity all my life, I have to wonder if we (Christians) have sold some things short. I wonder if we have been too quick to dismiss many of the religious practices we would consider ‘alternative’ in the past. Yes, God wants to communicate with us through prayer. But prayer is an active state of asking and thanking and talking and listening. But what if prayer was originally intended to also assist in our physical well-being. To slow our heart rate and clear our crazy hamster-wheel mind? What if mindfulness goes hand in hand with the well-known Scripture in Psalms 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ In one translation it says, ‘Cease striving and know that I am God.’ I have to wonder if we should be taking our prayer life to a completely different level by including our physical bodies as well as our spiritual souls.

Just as I believe Christians have historically been the worst about environmental issues – because we believe this to be our temporary home and that we will someday go to live with God in our eternal home – I think the same can be said of our temporary earthly bodies. Our bodies were a beautifully intricate gift from God! We have polluted and corrupted our physical bodies and minds.

My understanding of ‘prayer’ is greatly expanding beyond the kitschy acronym of ACTS (Adoration, Confess, Thanksgiving and Supplication.) My previous understanding of prayer was a two-way communication with God – an active activity. I believe God also wants us to stop and heal our minds through silent moments of meditation. Borrowing from some of the Buddhist practices might be a way of better connecting with the creator of our body, mind and soul…

perfecting imperfection

(image from Instagram: @notperfectlinen)

july 19, 2017

I listened to a podcast I have only recently found called 10% Happier. I read the book, 10% Happier, by Dan Harris (ABC news anchor) and I will talk more about that in later posts. The particular podcast I listened to today was from March of 2016 – Dan Harris interviewing Dr. Jay Michaelson. Michaelson is a lawyer, rabbi, legal/religion columnist for The Daily Beast, an LGBT activist, a theology professor and an author. It may be difficult to record my thoughts with much cohesion because they were flowing rapidly throughout the podcast.

A strong explanation for me at this infantile stage of meditation practice was the delineation he made regarding meditation now as opposed to meditation of Buddha’s time. Most people today get into meditation (and I am one of these people) for things like wanting to alleviate stress, lower blood pressure, be kinder to their spouse and more effective with their co-workers. But this was not in Buddha’s mind when he created what we know of as the steps to enlightenment of which meditation is a way to move through this process. Michaelson referred to the adaptation of meditation for our times as ‘Meditation Hobbyists’. It is a ‘gateway drug’ to enlightenment but not everyone uses meditation for the purpose of enlightenment and that’s okay. Strangely enough, I felt a great deal of relief to hear this. I just can’t quite pinpoint why except that I, too, wish to (as Dan Harris puts it) “be less of a schmuck and to tame my monkey mind.”

Speaking of monkey mind…

Michaelson points out: The part of our ego that wants to run the show is the least competent part of our minds. It was necessary for evolutionary adaptation that a part of our minds kept us from harm by pointing out weaknesses and survival techniques. It is the controlling part of our minds that usually results in suffering. For instance, the familiar voice that says ‘You suck. You don’t belong.’ Through mindfulness and meditation (note: I need to eventually define those two terms to better understand them myself) we will reach a point where we can recognize that voice and say, ‘Oh hey. There’s that voice.’ That’s the voice that was installed early on and probably won’t ever be gone from me. It’s the voice, Michaelson quips, of his well-meaning Jewish parents who praised him when he got 100% and questioned what went wrong when he got 95%. We can get to the place where we recognize the voice but not believe it. What a relief that would be! To recognize the voice, shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Meh. I’m not buying what you’re selling. then move on. Certainly a productive and liberating stage to achieve.

Practicing a Concentrated Mind is not something you leave to chance, however. Developing the capacity to differentiate The Voice from Self takes practice. Similarly, to be so present that you experience things with a crisp and clear awareness. These ‘crisp awareness’ experiences are not the point – they are merely a sideshow. The point of mindfulness is lasting transformation in the mind – to be more just, happier, and compassionate towards others and yourself.

Intuitive Knowledge means not having to think about a situation. When your mind can simply let go. Michaelson used the analogy of a cookbook. You cannot taste the dish by reading the recipe. You need to actually make the recipe. You need to actually do the instructions in order to enjoy the taste of the dish. There are ways in which we all unplug. Sleeping is a prime example. If you lie in bed thinking about how you want to sleep (aka: me!) then you cannot fall sleep. Not until your mind unplugs and lets go will you be able to sleep. I think of Scott fishing. He can spend hours fishing and thinking about very little except the act of baiting and strategizing and reeling in and re-baiting his line. He is ‘transported’ and unplugged from any work concerns or everyday stresses. He is fully present and in the enjoyable moment of fishing. I get the same way when working on a project. I am completely concentrated on the task at hand. There are times throughout the project when my mind jumps out of the present task and thinks of a stress or concern but I quickly bring it – intuitively – back to the task at hand. I don’t think, ‘Stop thinking about that right now. Get back to your project.’ I just intuitively jump back into the now.

Enlightenment v. Experiencing God. Enlightenment in the Dharma tradition (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) can be defined as an experience so profound it resonates for the rest of your life. In the Abrahamic faith (Christianity, as it applies to me) the point of conversion would be explained in the same way. The point of truly experiencing a God of forgiveness and love and mercy and grace is transformative and life changing. The Dharma tradition hopes to accomplish 1) less suffering, 2) less grabbing and 3) less holding on. This is accomplished through the training of the mind. Buddha talked about ‘awakening’ and ‘liberation’ as a means of completely uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. In Romans 12:2 of the Bible we see a similar idea: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” When we encounter and come to know our Abrahamic God, we learn to work against our natural instincts that are selfish in nature, and instead be transformed into a new way of thinking that is ‘good and pleasing and perfect.’ 

Similar to the discussion on recognizing the voice that is telling us we are not worthy, we need to also recognize the voice of consumption and need. There is the perception of ‘need’ versus the craving of ‘want’. The space in between Perception and Craving is the non-addictive middle ground of Liberation. To walk into a store (or for me, to open up Instagram!) and to see something we really like and believe we need – and then to recognize that voice as desire rather than true need and say ‘Oh there’s that voice of desire. I don’t really need this.’ and then to simply walk away without purchasing that item. It is not unlike the biblical teachings of being in the world but not of the world. 1 John 2:15-17: “Do you not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the father, but are from this world.” The things of this world are only temporary things. Revelations 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” When we believe this concept we know that not getting this one item or job or lover or {fill in the blank} is not the end. It won’t ruin you. The opportunity of happiness or fulfillment is not over with forever. The precepts of the Buddha and the precepts of God seem to align with regard to ultimate life goals. 

Michaelson reflected that in the end, the world as a whole would be better off if each individual participated in some form of Contemplative Practice. If we each worked on reducing greed, hatred and delusion individually then the macro level of world participation would be greatly affected. In our current political climate, it is easy to see the ramifications of contemplative thought and actions as opposed to the short-term reactive tirades and blame.

is there a balance?

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(image found on Pinterest without an origination link)

It is a question that has pinball-bounced around in my mind for a few years now. I’ve ‘joked’ about it with close friends. I would like to find and read from others who have written about it.

Is there an intersection between Christianity and Buddhist practices? When God calls us to pray unceasingly, could he have imagined some form of mindfulness?

I know there are points where the two belief systems do not align. But I am interested in the ways in which they might peacefully co-exist.

I had the thought to start a blog that is primarily for my own benefit. Perhaps no one will ever read it. Yet writing things out seems to be the best way in which I am able to understand my own thoughts. I am not sure of the ‘thesis’ or ‘main topic’. But so far I know I want to explore the following thoughts:

  • mindfulness
  • prayer
  • centering prayer
  • Buddhism as a practice
  • Christianity as a belief
  • and seemingly unrelated, the enneagram
  • people who have proficiently written about the above topics

Again, I am not sure what outcome I want to accomplish. I don’t think an end result is my goal but rather the journey through the questions to a life lived more intentionally and mindfully.

I am not a Birkenstock-wearing, aging old hippie. I do have some of those leanings, true. I do not aspire to be ‘like everyone else’. Keeping up with the Joneses is not in my wheelhouse since I do not have the resources in which to do so and also, neither the desire. In that way, I have hippie tendencies I suppose. However, I do like nice things. I am a sucker for a nice handbag. I prefer fine linens over cheap imitation. And predominately, I am not gluten-free, BPA-free, sugar-free or, most noteablynot a vegetarian. I feel like I am a regular ol’ Midwesterner raised in a mainline church who still believes deeply in the core tenets of the Church. Alongside this, I am interested in meditation as a holy practice. I would like to establish a daily meditation as a means to better health and meaningful living.

What is the most effective holistic approach to living our best life?
And is the fact that I want a more ‘effective holistic approach an indication of how far I have to go and how much I have to learn??

I am excited to see where this blog/journal/discovery will take me…