Monday, February 25, 2013

My Deepest Me is God

Following is the lectio the Monday Mindfulness group used this morning--first a quote from Richard Rohr and then four paragraphs from Eckhart Tolle.

Richard Rohr is pretty straightforward. Tolle may or may not read that way for you. For Christians, I think it's really helpful to think of his advice as 'incarnational'--a way the Spirit can infuse our minds and hearts with practical grace in order that the same Spirit can slowly become part of who we most deeply are.

Tolle's recommendations for "freedom, salvation & enlightenment" need to be practiced, repeated, worked into the ground of our experience. The more it is, the more we religious folk are able to turn 'talk' into 'walk.'

To "know ourselves as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain" is surely what St. Catherine was experiencing when she raced through the streets of Sienna proclaiming, "My deepest me is God! My deepest me is God."

Our image of God creates us—or defeats us. There is an absolute connection between how we see God and how you we see ourselves and the whole universe. The word “God” is first of all a stand-in for everything—reality, truth, and the very shape of our universe. This is why theology is important, and why good theology and spirituality can make so much difference in how we live our daily lives in this world. Theology is not just theoretical, but ends up being quite practical—practically up-building or practically defeating. --Richard Rohr

For love to flourish, the light of your presence needs to be strong enough so that you no longer get taken over by the thinker or the pain-body and mistake them for who you are. To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.

To dis-identify from the pain-body is to bring presence into the pain and thus transmute it. To disidentify from thinking is to be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior, especially the repetitive patterns of your mind and the roles played by the ego. 

If you stop investing thinking with “selfness” the mind loses its compulsive quality, which basically is the compulsion to judge and so to resist what is, which creates conflict, drama, and new pain.

In fact, the moment judgment stops through acceptance of what is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace. First you stop judging yourself; then you stop judging others.

Monday, February 18, 2013

God is sung best in a psalm without words

The quote below is from Eckart Tolle (with a mashup from one of the Desert Fathers, John the Solitary). This is what we used for our lectio this morning in the Monday group. 

Tolle can sometimes seem bone dry--but 'bone dry' can also be the same thing as 'clear and to the point.' 

One of the great ironies of mindful practices is that they can appear to be self-focused and self-absorbed. Yet the sweetest fruit of mindful practice is freedom from this very thing--the sticky gravity of our small selves. 

Through mindfulness we see the many habits and patterns that keep us stuck. Over time, recognizing and recognizing and recognizing these habits and patterns, it becomes easier and easier and easier to let them go. 

Tolle is very helpful describing how this works.

Since ancient times, spiritual masters of all traditions have pointed to the Now as the key to the spiritual dimension. Despite this, it seems to have remained a secret.

With the timeless dimension comes a different kind of knowing, one that does not “kill” the spirit that lives within every creature and every thing. A knowing that does not destroy the sacredness and mystery of life but contains a deep love and reverence for all that is. A knowing of which the mind knows nothing.

If you find it hard to enter the Now directly, start by observing the habitual tendency of your mind to want to escape from the Now. You will observe that the future is usually imagined as either better or worse than the present. If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation. If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both are illusory. Through self-observation, more presence comes into your life automatically. The moment you realize you are not present, you are present. Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence.

Be present as the watcher of your mind — of your thoughts and emotions as well as your reactions in various situations. Be at least as interested in your reactions as in the situation or person that causes you to react. Notice also how often your attention is in the past or future. Don’t judge or analyze what you observe. Watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction. Don’t make a personal problem out of them. You will then feel something more powerful than any of those things that you observe: the still, observing presence itself behind the content of your mind, the silent watcher.

There is a silence of the tongue,
and a silence of the body;
a silence of soul
and a silence of mind.
There is silence of spirit, too—
and, of course, 
the vast silence of God.

Within this silence
we sing God best
in psalms without words. 

--John the Solitary

Monday, February 11, 2013

Learning to Cherish the World

My morning 'mindful' reading these days is The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, Notes for a Contemplative Ecology by Douglas Christie. Before I 'pop this mortal coil' I'd really like to feel increasingly connected to the natural world. Which is pretty much saying that I'm feeling too separate and distinct now. 

Sometimes the barrier comes down for a moment--maybe when I flush a grouse, glimpse a fox or see (and hear!) a V of geese flying overhead. Those moments are such a delight. But more often (I hate to admit this) the natural world is not much more than background music to my thoughts, my musings, my problems--even my camera. 

I sense a possibility and a kind of calling to become less separate and  more and more permeable to the life of the world. Which is way I picked up Douglass Christie's book. He's spent a lot of time thinking, praying and working with this same possibility and sense of calling. Here's an excerpt....

Can ancient contemplative traditions help us in our efforts to learn to see and cherish the world more deeply? I confess that this question has come to have real personal importance for me. Over time, I have come to feel that the often-hidden work of contemplative practice—rooted in a simple, open-hearted attention—does have enormous meaning and significance.

The deepening of awareness that occurs through this practice really can change the quality of being, not only one’s own being but also the being of the world as a whole. This, I realize, is an audacious claim, and one that cannot be proven. Still, there is ample testimony from the contemplative traditions that such practice can and often does yield a deep sense of freedom and openness—to oneself, others, God, and the world as a whole.

This shift in awareness has meaning not simply for the one engaging in such practice but also for the larger community, however that community is understood. The contemplative undertakes this work not only for himself or herself but also for the sake of the larger whole.

My own experience of sitting in stillness, of waiting, listening, struggling in the silence of such contemplative space—whether in the company of my friends at Redwoods Monastery or as part of a more solitary practice—has given me glimpses into the kind of clarified awareness and deepened reciprocity that can arise when such simple attention takes root in the soul. It can soften the hard edges of one’s habitual perceptions, so that what previously seemed utterly distinct or separate from one’s own life now appears as intimately woven into the fabric of one’s very being. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Training and Strengthening the Mind

Jan Bays next plug for mindfulness is that it "trains and strengthens the mind." (The bit I posted yesterday was that mindfulness 'conserves energy.') Here--as in the title of her book--she's using the same metaphor the Buddha used two and a half millennia ago: taming a wild elephant. 

One of the things I especially appreciate about Jan Bays is that she leads a relatively normal life--she's a pediatrician, mother and grandmother (I say relatively because she also lives in a monastery!)

We are all aware that the human body can be trained (think of gymnasts, acrobats, ballet dancers, piano players, weight lifters). We are less aware that there are many aspects of mind that can be cultivated.

When we practice mindfulness, we learn to lift the mind up out of its habitual preoccupations and place it down in a place of our choosing in order to illuminate some aspect of our life. We are training the mind to be light, powerful, and flexible—but also able to concentrate on what we ask it to focus on.

The Buddha spoke of taming the mind. He said it was like taming a wild forest elephant. Just as an untamed elephant can do damage, trampling crops and injuring people, so the untamed, capricious mind can cause harm to us and those around us. Our human minds have a much larger capacity and power than we realize. Mindfulness is a potent tool for training the mind, allowing us to access and use the mind’s true potential for insight, kindness, and creativity.

…When a wild elephant is first captured and led out of the jungle, it has to be tethered to a stake. In the case of our mind, that stake takes the form of whatever we attend to in our mindfulness practice—for example, the breath….We anchor the mind by returning it over and over to one thing. This calms the mind and rids it of distractions.

Once our mind is tamed, we can remain calm and stable as we encounter the inevitable difficulties the world brings us. Eventually we don’t run from problems but see them as a way to test and strengthen our physical and mental stability.

Mindfulness helps us become aware of the mind’s habitual and conditioned patterns of escape and allows us to try an alternative way of being in the world. That alternative is resting our awareness in the actual events of the present moment, the sounds heard by the ear, the sensations felt by the skin, the colors and shapes taken in by the eyes. Mindfulness helps stabilize the heart and mind so they are not so badly tossed around by the unexpected things that arrive in our life. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Mind Seems to Think We're Stupid

What follows is tell-it-like-it-is description from Jan Bays of why it's worth learning to live mindfully. It's a 'first the bad news' kind of thing. Her book, How to Train a Wild Elephant (and Other Adventures in Mindfulness) is full of good news, too. But she understands (as most of us do) that we won't bother with something difficult unless there's a good reason to. Here she makes the case that we have a very good reason to take on the task of using our minds--instead of continuing and continuing to allow our minds to use us.

It is fortunate that we can learn to do tasks skillfully. It is unfortunate that this skill enables us to go unconscious as we do them. It is unfortunate because when we go unconscious, we are missing out on large parts of our life. When we “check out,” our mind tends to go to one of three places: the past, the future, or the fantasy realm. These three places have no reality outside our imagination. Right here where we are is the only place, and right now is the only time where we are actually alive.

The capacity of the human mind to recall the past is a unique gift. It helps us learn from our errors and change an unhealthy life direction. However, when the mind doubles back to the past, it often begins to ruminate endlessly on our past mistakes. “If only I’d said this . . . , then she would have said that. . . .”

Unfortunately the mind seems to think we are very stupid. It calls up the errors of our past over and over, blaming and criticizing us repeatedly. We wouldn’t pay to rent and watch the same painful movie two hundred fifty times, but somehow we let our mind replay a bad memory over and over, each time experiencing the same distress and shame. We wouldn’t remind a child two hundred fifty times of a small mistake he or she made, but somehow we allow our mind to continue to call up the past and to inflict anger and shame upon our inner small being. It seems that our mind is afraid that we will fall prey to bad judgment, ignorance, or inattention yet again. It doesn’t believe that actually we are smart—smart enough to learn from one mistake, and not to repeat it.

Ironically, a mind filled with anxiety is likely to create what it most fears. The anxious mind doesn’t realize that when it pulls us into daydreams of regret about the past, we are not attending to the present. When we are unable to be present, we tend not to act wisely or skillfully. We are more likely to do the very thing the mind worries we will do.