Twelve Steps Forward

Twelve Steps Forward

Easter 8 – 19

 

Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.

 

I do not know Charles Francis and this really is not an advertisement for his book.  I do recommend reading his explanation of each step, however, and perhaps trying one a day for the next twelve days.  Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step. 

 

Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.

 

Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further, and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.

 

Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.

 

Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.

 

Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.

 

Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.

 

Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.

 

Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.

 

Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.

 

Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.

 

Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.

 

Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from your practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”

 

This series topic of mindfulness is not designed to create more things to do in your daily schedule.  Once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.

The Long Walk Home

The Long Walk Home

Lent 44-45

 

Lent is traditionally thought of as a period of forty days and forty nights.  This year, because the date for Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Vernal Equinox, we have six extra days.  It is as if Mother Nature decided we needed some extra time.  Most of us go through life begging for more time, wishing a day had a few extra hours.  Thus this Lenten season begs the question:  Did you use your extra time wisely this year?

 

This Lenten series has been about how we respond to life and I used the eight verses of the Beatitudes as both prompts and lessons for doing so.  In deciding how to spend one’s time and in retrospect, if our time was used wisely and efficiently, productive not only for the present but as a prelude to the future, we need to really consider the words of the Beatitudes.  They offer truth as well as encouragement.

 

I have also used the analogy that our life is something like a treasure hunt, an adventure in which we seek the best we can obtain – happiness and joy.  If we are authentic about our reasons for our actions and our purposes, we must admit that the ultimate quest is one for contentment and delight.  In our careers, our hobbies, and even our mates, we seek that which brings us pleasure and amusement, giving reason to the humdrum necessities of life.

 

Google executive Mo Gawdat seemed to have it all and yet, he was not happy.  He set about to find real happiness and recently gave an interview about his search.  He used the common analogy we have all heard:  Is the glass half full or half empty?  Gawdat believes “Happiness is looking at the glass and seeing the truth of the glass.”  He goes on to explain that we need to recognize that glass as being half full and be grateful for that.  Then, he continues, we need to see the half empty portion and ask what we can do about it.  “True happiness is not about what the world gives you.  It is about what you think about what the world gives you.” 

 

Happiness is equal to or greater than the expectations of one’s life and the reality of it.  We sometimes believe life should behave a certain way and if it doesn’t, then we become unhappy.  Life is not always fun, Gawdat believes.  Fun is when we accept our life and are happy.  We achieve happiness when we accept the life we have at that moment and feel at peace about it.

 

Many people reading this are going to say “Well, yeah, easy for an executive to talk about accepting life.”  Mo Gawdat came to this realization the day he went from having a delightful family vacation to his son dying, a time span of four hours.  He went from fun to the harshest life had to offer in four brief hours, one-sixth of a day’s span.  How was he ever going make that long journey home and find normalcy ever again?

 

The Beatitudes do not offer us a perfect life.  They offer us a way to find the peace and happiness Mo Gawdat spoke about and encouraged us to seek.  For Christians, today is Maundy Thursday and tomorrow is Good Friday, a day in which their hero was tortured and left to die, crucified in front of his mother and followers, one who had betrayed him and another who had denied knowing him.  There is no joy in the events of this Thursday and Friday remembered and yet, without them, the rest of the living of this hero’s purpose would not have been possible.

 

The long way home for Mo Gawdat was not an easy one but he says that each day gets a little bit better.  The secret to happiness, he believes, is to accept where we are at the moment and move forward at peace.  “I can either chose to suffer, or I can choose to sort of accept life as harsh as it has become and reset, make that the zero-point and try to make that slightly better than it is today, and slightly better tomorrow…  “Happiness is not about what the world gives you – happiness is what you think about what the world gives you.”

 

As we make that long walk home from whatever we have encountered today, we can choose what to think about what life has given us.  We can reset for tomorrow and vow to make it better or we can crawl in a hole and let the tides of life drown us.  Make whatever thorns came your way today a crown of success for tomorrow or at least, a first step towards a better future.  You alone are the only one that can take that step for yourself.  Sometimes smiling and being nice is the best way to run the race of life.  And then, to quote the Moody Blues, “When all the stars have fallen down into the sea and onto the ground, and angry voices carry on the wind, a beam of light will fill your head and you’ll remember what’s been said by all the good men this world has ever known.”

 

 

Sanctuary

Refugees and Sanctuary

 

Strictly speaking we are all refugees in that the word quite simply means “displaced person”.  At some point, we all have felt out of place, or at least, out of step.  It is when I am most out of step that faith gives me strength and greater understanding, the chaos helping me realize the sanctuary faith affords.

 

It was on my twentieth birthday that the rector stuck his head in the choir room after the service to tell me I had volunteered to be the youth minister. I walked from the university to church but he had found me rides and so, as a most reluctant college junior, I found myself preparing for our first event – a refugee supper.  In the 1970’s the national church had a campaign to assist those coming from Vietnam.  We were to prepare a typical meal for these refugees – rice and soybeans.   Each plate consisted of one cup of rice and soybeans – a dull plate of white, rather tasteless food.  We served five hundred and made more than expected but what really affected the kids was the blandness and lack of color of the meal.  These kids who never ate their vegetables all brought vegetables to our next pot luck.  I can still hear the clown of the group:  “Thank you Lord for this food, this colorful rainbow of blessings, we are about to eat.”

 

In the 1990’s I was the director of a professional children’s choir in York, PA and we were asked to sing a sidewalk concert outside the prison for a group of illegal detainees from China.  Known as the men of the Golden Venture, these men were held for over four years and became famous for the 3-D origami art they created while there.  These refugees showed me an example of finding sanctuary in their faith and hopes.  Eight years later while working for a state agency I walked into a home of what seemed like a strange group of refugees.  It turned out I had walked into a human trafficking ring and this time faith gave me strength to help disband it.

 

The Beatitudes for me speak of sanctuary in that they provide hope and clarity in understanding what life throws at us.  My experience with refugees, both legal and illegal, is that all are seeking sanctuary.  I am at times a displaced person, someone trying to find their way in life.  Because of that, Jesus came and lived and died – all to provide me and you a sanctuary.  There are sixty-eight Bible verses about “sanctuary” but it really hits home to me when we sing it.  “Lord, prepare me to be sanctuary – pure and holy, tried and true.  With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”  Sometimes we seek the sanctuary and sometimes it is up to us to be it.

 

Life Relatable

Life Relatable

Lent 10

 

Not having been there at the time the Beatitudes were originally said, I do not know for sure why they were ever spoken.  However, I think it safe to surmise that they were felt to be pertinent and important for the audience to hear.  While they were uttered almost two thousand years ago, I do think they are still relatable.  Today, I am featuring a guest post, written by a college student several years ago.  In it this student explains why the Beatitudes are just as pertinent today as when they were first spoken.  Life was messy then.  Life is messy now, regardless of who we are.

 

“Sometimes I just can’t relate to the Bible. To be clear, I like the Bible. The stories are engaging, scandalous, and funny (well, if you can decipher 1st century humor), with good morals and memorable characters. So while I do like the Bible, I don’t always feel like I can relate to it. I have little in common with the authors: kings and prophets sent to inspire the masses with divine intervention when things got rough. I don’t know about you, but I’m no prophet. I’m barely a king.

 

“So while I do like the Bible, often when I read it I do so as though I would read a novel about Afghanistan or an article about outer space: a interesting story about a different world that I will never see. The story may be real, but it is very far away, the people are not like me, and the surroundings are not familiar—while I may have sympathy, I cannot have empathy. It is like a news report that I read, murmur a judgment on, and discard, already forgotten, as I move on to the next. However, in today’s passage from Psalm 44, the saints and martyrs with whom I have nothing in common are gone. In their place is a scared, lonely, confused individual, someone who is struggling to understand why God is so silent while they are suffering. This is a very human passage written by a very vulnerable human. This is a passage I can relate to.

 

“Lent is a funny time, but it is necessary. We spend so much of our lives pretending that everything’s okay, masking our pain and confusion, thinking that everyone else seems to have life figured out, so we should, too. However, I believe that it is in being truly vulnerable that we find our greatest strength. It is in letting others see just how scared, lonely, and confused we really are that we allow them to do the same. Once we let each other in behind the walls of confidence and brave faces only then can we truly begin to build each other up, to rely on each other. If you get a chance these next 40 days of Lent, be vulnerable. It’s scary, and uncomfortable, and takes far more faith than you would imagine. It’s what Lent is all about. Be vulnerable. After all, isn’t that something we can all relate to?”

 

I think the Beatitudes are pertinent because they are words we can all relate to and understand.  They speak of misery, of pain, of unfulfilled goals and yet, within each of those things, there is hope and a reason to forge ahead through life’s messes.  Few of us are kings and even fewer prophets and yet, we all get scared, lonely, discouraged.  By keeping our faith, we can find the strength to carry on with our living and discover success.  More on the treasure hunt of life in the next post.  Until then, be vulnerable.  It is something we all find relatable.

 

Celebration of Life

Celebration

Lent 6-7

 

What is the one thing we hope to have in each day?  Happiness and/or Goodness, right?  We are just a week into this new series but I am still getting a few queries as to why the Beatitudes for the basis of a series.   The Beatitudes are really about happiness.  It may seem like they aren’t but perhaps if you think that, you are looking at them through a really small lens.

 

“The Beatitudes come with the potential for reward for any human being willing to give enough focus to come to some understanding of what they have to say. I believe The Beatitudes have particular value today, no matter what your religious affiliation, because they teach empathy and allow you to consider what it might be like to be in a position of weakness.”  Brandon Monk wrote this in an essay comparing the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.  I do not seek to compare the two great religious tenets but I do think his viewpoint on the beatitudes bears some consideration.

 

IF we are to truly and sincerely examine our lives we will find cause for celebration, even in the midst of turmoil and pain.  The Beatitudes were part of a speech given by a man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  The speech is more commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount and stories about it include the feeding of hundreds with barely enough food for ten. 

 

Again quoting Brandon Monk, we need to remember the meaning of our own lives and not judge them on one hour or one day of misery or dissatisfaction.  “The Beatitudes … are inspirational. For example, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.” The language here offers incentive, in this case your “fill” in exchange for your effort in seeking justice. As one can see in the language of The Beatitudes, there is an emphasis on good acts. Let’s look at another example: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.” The Beatitudes often dangle the “carrot” in front of the reader instead of threatening the whip. In this case the “carrot” is “the land.” The Beatitudes reflect on the state of the human being in his human condition, with human condition consisting of suffering, inequity, and injustice.”

 

Life is messy.  I have said it before and will say it again because it is true.  And yet, even in the messiness, we have reason for celebration.  The other day I spilled some milk.  While I was not happy to have spilled it, I was grateful I had milk to spill.  Fortunately the amount was minimal and I had several things with which to clean the mess.

 

When we allow ourselves to utilize what we have at hand, including our religion and spirituality, we also can clean up our lives.  The Beatitudes encourage us to celebrate life and to realize the goodness in our own lives.  That is why I celebrate today and while it will not be perfect, I am perfectly blessed by having today to live.

Goodness

Goodness

Lent 1

 

During Lent our series will focus on the Beatitudes, those eight to ten, and in one location, four saying about goodness, happiness and spirituality.  While the basis for this series will be taken from the New Testament, this will not be a purely religious series.  It is a series about goodness and our search for it in an overall sense – goodness of living, of health, of being.  We will delve into such distinction as the difference between a happy person and an optimistic person and there will be, hopefully, a vignette to explain and explore our discussion each day.

 

Most Creation stories open with “In the beginning” and the world seems to have been complete, whole, and happy.  Then something happens and chaos ensues.  While it may seem hard to relate to something like that, most of us experience it every day when we go to check social media.  The science of happiness would tell us that while the caveman did not have a Facebook account and the only twitters he heard or saw were from birds in the trees, he did fall victim to the same social pressures that we do when reading about a friend’s seemingly perfect life.

 

We are all connected and the people in our lives play an important role in the basic goodness we experience and the happiness we feel.  Both of these are contributing factors to our sense of well-being and our actual physical health.  Skeptics argue that optimistic people may not necessarily live longer and we certainly have discussed that topic before.  However, recent scientific research and the resulting evidence indicate that there is a strong link between happiness and health and it goes both ways.

 

Our approach to living is key in our trying to improve our lives and the world.  Being happy will never be as simply as taking a pill and seeing the goodness in life will not be accomplished with an increased prescription for a new pair of glasses.  We can, though, take the wisdom of the ages and look at our own approach to living. 

 

Lent is traditionally a time of introspection and, let’s face it, dreary feelings of guilt and shame.  Our source material is a wonderful way to change that and improve ourselves without beating ourselves up – figuratively or psychologically.  Let’s replace those pounds of guilt with feelings of goodness and happiness!  Life will always be a work in progress.  I hope you join me for this series in making lemonade out of lemons.  Who knows?  We might even find a way to make a lemon tart or pie without fewer calories!

Love

Love

Epiphany 40

 

Today is, if I have scheduled these post correctly, not just the fortieth day in the season known as Epiphany, it is also Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day is, in many locations on and off this planet, the day for celebrating love.  Love truly is a verb although we tend to think of it only as a noun.  During this series we are discussing verbs and the actions they represent, actions that might make our lives a bit better.  On this day is there a better time to remember that love is a verb, something we can do and just hope to receive?  Can living better really be as simple as loving better?   After all, as one 1960’s popular song advised, “all you need is love.”

 

The man who would become known as Saint Valentine, in whose honor gifts and cards are given on this day in the name of love, is considered a third century Saint and yet, his Saint Day does not appear on the Roman Catholic’s Church’s General Calendar and when this Saint Day was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I the man known as Saint Valentine was among all those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.”

 

Historians now believe there were actually three Valentines.  Being a common name which meant powerful, one of these men named Valentine was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna now known as modern Terni in Italy.   Both are buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third is said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa, and nothing else is known of his life.

 

Love seems to be just as elusive and illusionary as the holiday.  While the day celebrates our love for each other, we first must love ourselves before sharing love.  In order to do that, we need to go back a couple of days to the blog post entitled “Befriend” and become our own best friend.  We all have that voice of conscious in our heads and that voice can be a positive thing at times.  However, friends not only remind you when you stray off your chosen path, they also build you up and our inner voice needs to that friend as well. 

 

Environment should not be overlooked.  “Location, location, location” is a popular phrase in real estate but it is true for our own self-love as well.  We need positive people in our lives, not depressed, envious people who only destroy any sense of positive self-love we might possess.  We need to walk through supportive friends in our daily living, friends that will help us formulate and then build our vision for the rest of our lives.  This is the only way to make our dreams become a reality.

 

We need to live authentically and truly live what we are inside.  This means developing a plan and then following it to achieve our dreams.  It also means giving ourselves time and space to accomplish those goals and dreams.  Declutter your life and clean up your life – throw away the baggage from the past to make room for the future.  Making our bodies and our home space a priority is actually a luxury but even in dire circumstances, it can happen.  A refugee camp showed people living in tents made from discarded clothing.  In one such tent some string had been strung with metal bottle caps hanging.  Even in this environment of misery and uncertainty, the breeze would turn this string and metal trash into a wind chime, a respite for all within hearing distance.

 

The human spirit should be celebrated every day but on this day in which we take time to share love, remember to love your own self.  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King was speaking not only to the crowd before him but to each individual about their own life. 

 

I wish love to you all, both for another person but also of yourself.  Educator Dr. William Purkey gave us the best lesson plan for doing this:  “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.  Love like you’ll never be hurt.  Sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”