Monday, January 28, 2013

Contemplative Ecology

I feel bad that I haven't posted in so long. Been wrestling with a digestive thing which has caused me to stay up later at night--and sleep later in the morning. Haven't had that early morning time to write lately. 

Also, I'm reading something really different--The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, Notes for a Contemplative Ecology by Doug Christie--and finding in it a wonderful mix of inspiration, helpfulness and challenge! 

But I haven't felt competent to transpose Christie's insights into some kind of shared experience with mindfulness and contemplative prayer. 

The gist of the book is that Our Time is calling us to deepen our attention and connection to the natural world. 

Calling us to cultivate a contemplative awareness of all things natural so we can begin to undo this sense of being separate from the rest of Creation that we suffer from. 

It is from this deeper connection that we will be sustained by nature's beauty and power AND become more empowered to do more to slow the destruction of God's beautiful earth. 

Here's a sample:


…The shared sense that the ecological crisis (which is also a cultural, social, and political crisis) we are facing in this moment is at its deepest level spiritual in character… means our response to this crisis will require of us nothing less than a spiritual transformation.

To speak of an ecological spirituality or spirituality that is informed by intimate contact with and feeling for the natural world can and will mean many different things in the present cultural moment. But a common feature of spiritual practice is a deepening awareness of oneself as existing within and responsible for the larger whole of the living world.

One attempt to express this broad and diffuse understanding of spirituality defines it as: “the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life-integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.” (Sandra Scheiders)

Something similar can be said about the notion of “lived religion,” an idea that is coming to have increasing importance for helping us understand the creative and eclectic strategies which human beings imply to discover and express spiritual or religious meaning in their lives. In practice, such strategies often reflect an open and flexible relationship to religious traditions, a willingness to hold apparently conflicting or paradoxical views in tension in the search for a meaningful way of being in the world.  

…Spiritual practices are often undertaken by persons and communities in order to achieve freedom from harmful, compromising attachments and to create the climate in which it becomes possible to adopt a more open, loving disposition toward others and the world. Such practices often lead to a serious engagement with and critique of fundamental social, cultural, and economic values that are perceived as tearing at the very fabric of life and community. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Taking the World as it Is

What Christians call being born again, Buddhists call awakening. Irenaeus, a third Century Christian spoke of it this way: The glory of God is a human being fully alive. That's my favorite way of thinking about it. 

I often say that I'm grateful to Buddhists for coming at awaking, at being fully alive, in a rich but different way than we have in the Christian tradition. Not because it's necessarily better, but because it's complementary. The East offers the West a different perspective on the 'how' of spiritual formation. And it's a very earthy, nuts & bolts perspective. They offer lots of training, lots of 'try this..., try that...'

Right now I'm reading Pema Chodron's Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Here's a gleaning from yesterday's reading...

The path to awakening lies in being completely present and open to all sights, all sounds, all thoughts--never withdrawing never hiding, never needing to jazz them up or tone them down. 

This is a tricky idea to grasp, no question. That's why we train in the first two commitments, with the building blocks of 

   (1) refraining from harming with our speech or actions and 
   (2) not closing our mind and heart to anyone. 

We need that deep training to reach the place where everything becomes the path of awakening.

Much of the training in the first two commitments involves minimizing our tendency to pin our labels and preconceptions, our views and opinions on everything we perceive. 

With the third commitment (to embrace the world just as it is), we take this still further. It's not that we can't have views and opinions about oatmeal or snow--or anything else for that matter. It's just that we don't cling to those views. 

Instead, we try them on, have fun with them, like an actor or actress in a play. We can dance with life when it's a wild party completely out of control and we can dance with life when it's as tender as a lover. We work with whatever we have, with whoever we are, right now. 

...Imagine what the world would be like if we could come to see our likes and dislikes as merely likes and dislikes, and what we take to be intrinsically true as just our personal viewpoint. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Same Song, Different Key

Yesterday's post was my best shot at writing about the Sacred Pause from my currrent experience. I've learned about this wonderful 'bit' of spiritual formation from many mindful writers. 

What follows is Pema Chodron's version from her new book Living Beautifully. I've learned so much from Pema--as well as from Jon Kabbat-Zinn, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jack Kornfield. 

It is only to the degree that we become willing to face our own feelings that we can really help others. So we make a commitment that for the rest of our lives we’ll train in freeing ourselves from the tyranny of our own reactivity, our own survival mechanisms, our own propensities to be hooked.

Fundamental uneasiness will continue to arise over and over, but when it does, we won’t overreact to it, we won’t let it rule our life…. We can catch the spark of irritation, impatience, or disappointment before it bursts into the flames of anger. The following practice allows us to look at what’s happening around us while simultaneously being aware of what’s happening inside us.

1.     Come into the present. Flash on what’s happening with you right now. Be fully aware of your body, its energetic quality. Be aware of your thoughts and emotions.

2.     Feel your heart, literally placing your hand on your chest if you find that helpful. This is a way of accepting yourself just as you are in that moment, a way of saying, “This is my experience right now, and it’s okay.

3.     Go into the next moment without any agenda. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Change the World in 4 Steps

Our world is in trouble. It needs help. Which is also to say it needs helpers. Without making it a big deal any of us can sign up to help and make a difference.

Anybody who wants can practice being a difference-maker. It’s not complicated. Moments of opportunity will come to us today. Many moments will come to us today.

We tend to think in terms of making a Big Difference—and then letting the idea go because we’re not sure where to start. Thinking like this tends to keeps us on the sidelines and out of the game, which is a shame, because we've all got game, and the Game needs us.

I’ve written about the Sacred Pause before. It’s a tried and true way to get into the Game. There are many ways to practice it, to do it. Here’s one—a little four step spiritual practice we can do.

1.      Notice your moment. Maybe it’s a feeling that something’s not quite right. Maybe it’s a sense of kindness or helpfulness welling up in you. Maybe it’s a sense of frustration or anger welling up. Maybe it’s a sense of wanting to turn on your heels ‘and get the hell out of here.’

2.      Pause. Stop thinking what you’re thinking and start noticing what you’re feeling. Do your best to just notice and feel the feelings.  They’re often not that pleasant. But when we let go of the thoughts that come with them it makes it easier to just be with the feelings themselves. These feelings, these sensations are often the very things that move us one way and another through our days.

3.      Take a quick moment to hold your feelings, whatever they are, with kindness, compassion, gentleness and understanding. Whatever it is you’re experiencing in this moment is no more or less than what it sometimes feels like to be human, to be alive, to be part of this world. Smile. You’ve got Big Love to trust. Trust it, brother. Bring it, sister.

4.      Now you’re ready: at least ready to practice the last step. It’s what these other steps prepare us for. Go into the next moment with fresh openness.  With no bias, no agenda.  At least no other agenda than doing your best to be open, curious, wise, and kind.

There’s no guarantee this will get us ‘what we want.’  The guarantee is that as we keep doing this, we will come to see that this troubled world we want to help has a million ways to be freshly seen, deeply listened too, kindly smiled upon, engaged and altered a little bit at a time--many times a day.

And we are altered in the process. We’re in the game. We got game. Over time it becomes impossible to believe that it's impossible to make a difference. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

When Prayer Seemed Dumb

Prayer has been confusing me the past few years. Something somewhere in me has been resisting praying--at least in the way I've usually prayed.

Ironically, even though prayer has seemed more distant God has seemed deep down every cell.

The best way I know to say this is that prayer (in the old way) felt useless or redundant. "Why am I asking God to do what God already wants to do?!"

That seemed dumb. I felt dumb praying that way.

I kept doing it, however, knowing that prayer is conversation with God--even though I was feeling disfluent.

Gradually, very gradually, the old flow came back--though it's moving in the 'wrong' direction. I think Jesus spoke to this when he said an underground stream of living water would well up in us.

Rather than our prayers rising up to God it seems more like God's prayers welling up in us.

At this point, God's prayers seem pretty much the same as God's love--love that comes with concrete agendas--for this person or that one, for this action or another. God...filling us up.

Maybe it's simpler than I guessed.

Resting in God's love, feeling it, listening to it, accepting it, soaking it up, following it, doing it.