Purpose

Purpose

Easter 47

 

“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story.  It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”  Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist who is also an ordained nun. Her words are important for us to remember as we walk our path of mindfulness.

 

It is not always delightful to be fully present in particular moments of our lives.  Sometimes it is painful and to accept the reality of the pain can be difficult.   Pema Chödrön has some advice for such times.   “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.”

 

We have a choice in how we experience the world, even if we do not have the choice of what, where, and when the world meets us.  We still have a choice and some control because we can choose and control our reactions.   Life is not the series of events that we find ourselves in the midst of without any say.  Life does include those events but it also includes how we respond to them.

 

We are the author of our own lives and mindfulness helps us write our own story.  We are not and should not be merely puppets in the story of our life.  We need to be director, producer, main actor, and yes, script writer.    We should also be the musical director and lighting coordinator, makeup artist and caterer.  What?  How do we do all that?

 

The director tells an actor where to go and how to portray the character.  We need to direct our lives, making choices of what we do and how we do it, including how we respond.  The producer helps prepare for the production and handles the detail stuff.  We cannot live blindly; we must take care of the “small stuff”.  Skipping the script writer for now, let’s move onto the music in our lives.  Mindfulness is especially helpful here as we listen to our world and take in the beautiful sounds of living – birds chirping, ducks splashing, children laughing and yes, even the sounds of grief in muffled sobs.  We set out own stage by our choices in life and we either see the world around us lit up in all its glory or we turn off the lights and dwell in darkness and despair.  The face we present to the public is the demeanor or make-up we put on every day.  The food choices we make go a long way in determining our health.

 

These are all mindful decisions we make each and every day.  We need to be aware of them and make them responsibly.    That takes up back to the script writer.  How are you writing the story of your life?  A recent scientific study defined mindfulness as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

 

What is your purpose and what do you want it to be tomorrow?  By living and practicing mindfulness, your awareness of your life experiences will help make the future successful and a much happier place to be.  Mindfulness affords one to have less stress and a healthier living, things that should be among our top three reasons for being.  Health becomes more positive and productive as do relationships.  Simply put, the purpose for mindfulness is to experience life more fully and with positive results.

For the Minute

For the Minute

Easter 4

 

There is an irony in the fact that, as I am writing about being mindful, the art of being actively engaged in the moment we are living, I have to take a time out.  Life is messy and the past week was… well, quite messy.  There was simply no time to meditate.  We’ve all had those days, right?  Where, for each minute, we really need another sixty.  So how can we be in the moment when there are so many things vying for our attention?

 

What if it was possible to be mindful in less than sixty seconds?  Dr. Alice Boyles offers some tips of how to practice mindfulness in less than one minute.  First, she suggests, as we are eating, we should practice mindfulness but instead of attempting to do mindful eating all the time, “try mindful eating for the first two bites of any meal or snack.  For the first two bites of any meal or snack you eat, pay attention to the sensory experiences – the texture, taste, smell, and appearance of the food, and the sounds when you bite into your food.  You don’t need to savor per se, you’re just paying attention to your sensory experience in an experiential rather than evaluative way.”

 

Next she has an idea about something we all do – breathing.  “Instead of formal meditation, try paying attention to what one breath feels like.  Feel the sensations of one breath flowing into and out from your body. Notice the sensations in your nostrils, your shoulders, your rib cage, your belly etc.”  I tried this on an elevator.  It was a new elevator and I was only going up four floors but that gave me enough time to pay attention to one breath.  It also helped calm my usually jittery feelings about being in an elevator.

 

Some of her other tips include just being and giving your brain a minute vacation instead of trying to catch up on one’s email.  We all tend to take those few minutes of nothing to do just that.  Instead, she suggests, we should give our brain a break and simply be in the moment.  Trust me, the emails will still be there and you will probably feel more included to answer them later.

 

Another mindfulness practice in less than one minute is to simply focus on the feeling of air upon our skin.  Dr. Boyles explains that this allows one to “practice being in experiential processing mode (as opposed to evaluative “judging” mode, which is our default.”  We can also do a mental body scan and think about how we feel.  Don’t just focus on the aches and pains, though.  Include some positive feelings as well.  If you do have some negative feelings, try to soften or improve them.  Scanning for feelings of comfort gives one a sense of well-being and that is also calming.

 

My favorite piece of advice is to practice mindfulness on something you tend to do out of habit, some little something you do every day.  For instance, if you take a printed newspaper, slowly and mindfully open it.  If you drink a hot beverage in the morning, deliberately think about getting the cup out of the cabinet, pouring the liquid into the cup, smelling the beverage and then slowly sipping it.

 

Life is far too precious to waste any of it and by practice mindfulness, we are attuned to the beauty of our living.  Mindfulness enables us to observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Present and Accounted For

Present and Accounted For

Easter 2

 

Most of us began our childhood days in school by answering to a roll call.  A teacher would call out our name and we would answer “Here”.  Then the teacher would send a note to the office or record in the roll book that all were “present and accounted for”.  A teacher needed to keep track, especially since school attendance is compulsory in many areas.  Knowing that your child is safe inside the halls of academia is also a good feeling for the parents.  It does, however, set up expectations for us that perhaps go too far.

 

First, in today’s world, school is not always a safe haven.  Young girls are abducted by fanatical groups who see strong women as a threat and educating girls as the first step in creating strong women.  Mental health issues unaddressed have also been at the heart of most school shootings and have resulted in many school now spending as much on security as they do on textbooks.

 

Taking attendance at school is not a bad thing and school security has been important for over forty years.  The problem comes when we expect our life to be as clear and simple as taking attendance.  Just showing up is important but as we go through our living, are we truly “present” or do we just go through the motions?

 

If we are to really live what we learned during our Lenten series, we must be mindful of our living.  We must be present each hour and not just go through the motions.  All too often we awake dreading the day.  Life is not always fair.  There is no getting around that basic fact.  There will always be someone who appears prettier, has more toys, gets ahead in what seems like an easier and faster career projector.  Life is messy and, at times, unfair.  It can still be good, nonetheless.

 

Instead of waking up thinking of all the things you “have to” do that day, why not open your eyes and marvel in those things that you “get” to do?  You have to get up early and go to work?  Rejoice that you have a job; not everyone does.  You have to clean house; be grateful you have a house.  Someone made fun of your religious head covering?  It is always wrong for someone to bully another based upon religious or spiritual preferences but give thanks that you are strong and secure enough in your faith to wear it in public because not everyone is or can.

 

Life is not always fair but it is always good and a blessing to live.  Hopefully in these fifty days of Easter we will explore the many things we get to do in our living.  I hope today you will be mindful of those blessings and present as you do them.  Life is the greatest gift of all and we get to experience it each and every day.  When we are truly mindful of that, then we are not only present, we are able to recognize and account for the beauty that life can be.

In-Between to Birth

In-Between to Birth

Easter 1

 

For almost a month, I joined millions in watching the live feed from an animal park in New York state.  A giraffe was due to give birth and the world seemed fascinated.  There were various feeds one could follow and several offered advertising with proceeds in the form of pet supplies and food being given to local animal shelters.  I happily participated in making my watching count.

 

There were those, however, who felt it all a great deal of nonsense.  “Get a life” was the most common negative comment seen.  Some readily admitted to watching in-between commuting and so felt they were not for whom such comments were directed.  Others felt they were being mindful to the miracle of birth.  I claim to be a part of neither camp.  I watched because I find giraffes fascinating creatures.  I do wonder at their evolution and creation for they seem to be a bit in-between the larger mammals and the delicate faces of the smaller ones.

 

The Rt Rev Steven Charleston recently made a comment about our being “in-between”.  Yesterday, as I was watching the birth of the giraffe calf so many had eagerly awaited, He posted this:  We are in-between. Right now, we are in-between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But in reality we are always in-between in life. In-between is where we live and move and make our reality. We go from birth to death between many polarities: health and illness, joy and sadness, hope and despair. We inhabit these spiritual spaces of transition, constantly moving from one level of experience to the next. It is in the in-between that we discover the presence of the sacred, that creative force that helps us transition and adapt. We are the people of the in-between.”

 

Watching the young calf be born, along with millions around the world, I realized that we were all in-between and teetering on the edge of something very similar to world peace.  This young calf and his two giraffe parents had united millions around the world, something no politician or political party had ever been able to accomplish.  As we spent time in the in-between of a fifteen-month pregnancy and its culmination in birth, we were all feeling hope and fear, joy and wonderment.

 

Being mindful of our living is something we often fail to experience.  The reality of this birth was beautiful.  As the calf slowly edge his way out, the mother would welcome him with her tongue and kisses.  It was as if she realized her calf’s reality was changing drastically and she wanted to encourage him and comfort him that all would be all right. 

 

Our blog series this Easter season will be on mindfulness.  I hope this period will bring you joy and enlightenment in your living.  Life is all around us and while we need to spend less of it online and more of it in person, we can learn from all aspects of it.  Today is a new day and our reality, much like the new giraffe calf’s has changed.  Let us give thanks for this new day and recognize the new life ahead of us all.

The Beginning in the End

The Beginning in the End

Lent 31-32

 

Things end.  It is an inevitable fact of life.  Yet, in many cultures, death is but a dormant season.  Winter may seem like a period in which things die but in nature, winter is a time of hibernation, a time of rest before the rebirth of a new season, the beginning of a new cycle which has spring from the ending of an old cycle.

 

The cause and effect of the Beatitudes illustrate how in our pain and turmoil, we might consider that we are simply in a period of dormancy, having paused on a landing before continuing on our journey.  The marathon runner knows to pace him or herself because the race is not won at the start but rather at the finish line.  Perhaps we should consider that those periods of season of nonsuccess or non-joy are merely stepping stones towards our ultimate victory.

 

Yesterday was the end of the month of March and today begins the month of April and yet, for many of us, the days were very similar.  One ending swiftly faded into a beginning with little fanfare or change.  Often the transitions in our lives go unnoticed and we neglect to recognize the value of each step along our path.

 

Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne discussed how we determine happiness in our journey in an article for Psychology Today published several years ago.  “In many ways, living in the moment has its benefits. While you’re in the midst of an enjoyable experience, you’re most likely to be tuned into the pleasures signaled by your body’s senses.  By contrast, an experience marked by pain, mishaps, and inconvenience is one you’d just as soon get out of as soon as possible. Even so, after it’s over, many of us forget how badly we felt while it was going on. When pain outweighs pleasure, living in the moment isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. 

 

“As it turns out, many of us are pretty likely to form biased memories of our experiences. The biases can go in both positive and negative directions. According to Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the “peak-end rule” is just one of many errors of judgment that affects the accuracy of our cognitive apparatus. An event makes its mark in our memories more by what happens at its end than at any prior point. In his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Kahneman points out many of the illogical features of our thought processes, including the contrast between our experiences in the moment and the way we remember them.

 

“Studies of happiness in the moment use a method called “experience sampling” in which people provide an instantaneous reading of how they are feeling. New technologies allow researchers to “ping” participants, asking them questions about what they’re doing right now, instead of having them provide recollections at some later point.  For example, German researcher Bettina Sonnenberg and her colleagues (2012) asked participants on their mobile phones to report the activities they were engaging in while pursuing their daily routines. The participants also completed standard survey questionnaires about their use of time. People’s reports through experience sampling were very consistent with surveys that they later completed regarding questions about the amount of time they spent at paid work. However, when participants were asked to estimate how much time they spent in less regular, predictable activities (such as errands or leisure), the survey reports diverged substantially from the moment-to-moment data they recorded through experience sampling.

 

“It’s no surprise that people rate their happiness while having a previous experience higher than they did while going through the experience itself. While you’re in the moment, you are aware of more of the “objective” features of the situation. You may be having your favorite meal, trying to unwind after a stressful day, and although you love the music itself, your mind strays to some of the unpleasant things that happened to you earlier. If we “ping” you to rate your happiness, your rating may reflect not the food you’re trying to enjoy, but the recall of what caused you to feel stressed.

 

“Many studies support the peak-end rule. People will prefer and even choose exposing themselves to more pain (objectively determined) if the situation ends with them feeling less pain.  Think about it this way. If you are having a tooth drilled, you’d find it was less painful if the dentist ends the procedure with some lightening of the drill’s intensity, even if the procedure is longer than it would otherwise be. Counterintuitive? Yes. Common? Definitely.

 

“We approach not only our experiences of pleasure and pain in this way, but also our acquisition of objects that we’re given as gifts. As reported in a review article by Dartmouth psychologist Amy Do and collaborators (2008), participants given free DVD’s were more pleased with the gifts if they received the more popular ones after the less popular ones, then if they received the exact same DVD’s in the opposite order. When it comes to pleasure, it’s all about the ending.”

 

In the Beatitudes, the blessing or happiness is promised in the ending.  We tend to fear endings but, as this research supports, what really matters is not the actual experience but how it ends.  After all, when running up the steps to a monument, the victory comes with the completion of the task, the ending.  This is what gives us a feeling of triumph.  We win because we lived and, having lived, we eagerly await the next new beginning. 

And then … What?

And then…What?

Lent 22

 

It is almost impossible to name a fairy tale that does not start with “Once upon a time…”.  There are certain things that come with predisposed bits of language.  Parents usually begin a lecture with “When I was your age…” and most board meetings with “Thank you for coming.”  This not only are commonplace, they give us comfort because we know something will follow.

 

Most of us will take a breath right about now and, hopefully, that breath will be followed by another.  Millions of people have been given comfort when, having been diagnosed with sleep apnea, they are given a CPAP machine which blows air into the nasal passages to facilitate respiration.  The mechanized blowing in is followed by an automatic human exhaling which then triggers another breath in…and out… and in… and out, etc.  The process gives the equipment its name – Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.

 

Life offers us its own continuous process.  The dilemma is that we seldom recognize the lessons contained therein.  The beatitudes are a series of such continuous processes.  If we love and value something, we will miss it when it is gone.  If we stand up for what we believe, others will try to dissuade us and criticize us.  When we try to do goodness, we will be more able to recognize goodness in others and the world.

 

So yesterday is history.  Today is the present and tomorrow…well, tomorrow’s page has yet to be written.  The words that will be on it, though, the future, will be based upon what we learned from yesterday and today.  If we handled ourselves with grace and compassion towards others, we will be identified as benevolent people, most likely followers of a benevolent belief system.  If we remain calm and work towards peace, we will encourage others to do the same.

 

Many do not think that the Beatitudes do not offer comfort but to me, they promise another day.  The beatitudes are about the future and the fact that our actions today will write our future tomorrow.  Suzy Kassem wrote a poem about this, entitled “The Four Heavenly Fountains”    It goes like this:

Laugh, I tell you

And you will turn back

The hands of time.

 

Smile, I tell you

And you will reflect

The face of the divine.

 

Sing, I tell you

And all the angels will sing with you!

 

Cry, I tell you

And the reflections found in your pool of tears –

Will remind you of the lessons of today and yesterday

To guide you through the fears of tomorrow.”

Our hopes and dreams should be sought today but we need to take faith in the tomorrow that they often bring.  Even when we seem to fail, we really are succeeding by gaining knowledge.  We need to embrace today and be open to the lessons that will promise us a better tomorrow.  The real blessings are found in living.

 

 

 

Boys and Broccolini

Boys and Broccolini

Lent 13

 

The Beatitudes may seems old and out of date but they are an excellent example of cause and effect, the efficacy or causality that believes one thing had a direct result on the outcome.  While the words of the Beatitudes may seem ancient, their basic construct is used all over the world by parents, politicians, cult leaders, and terrorist factions.

 

Before you get all upset because I put parents in the same grouping as politicians and leaders of terrorist cells, please read on.  When it comes to persuasive speech, they all have a great deal in common.  Many of us from several generations ago were admonished not to make faces or else, we were told, our face would freeze that way.  Another less understood adage was that we were to eat all our vegetables because there were starving children in the world.

 

Writing for the website explorable.com, Martyn Shuttleworth explains why such a persuasive argument is often incorrect and misleading.  “The basic principle of causality is determining whether the results and trends seen in an experiment are actually caused by the manipulation or whether some other factor may underlie the process.  Unfortunately, the media and politicians often jump upon scientific results and proclaim that it conveniently fits their beliefs and policies. Some scientists, fixated upon ‘proving’ that their view of the world is correct, leak their results to the press before allowing the peer review process to check and validate their work.”

 

Growing up in the city Maria was completely out of her element when her family moved to a small town of less than one thousand.  She attended a weekend dance shortly after moving to the area which was held at a community center.  Five days later a classmate sat down beside her at lunch and introduced herself.  “Hi, I’m Priscilla.  My older brother is best friends with Jackley who plays ball with Billy.  His younger brother is in our class because he flunked kindergarten.  His brother is named Logan but he sits on the other side of the room so you might not have noticed him.  He’s best friends with Josh who lives next door to me.  Anyway, Logan told Josh he likes you.  He saw you at the dance, you see.  So, do you like him?”  Lost amid all the names and siblings, Maria smiled hesitantly and replied:  “If he likes me, then he and I should talk about it.”  Priscilla tossed her head backed and turned to the other girls standing around.  “She’s a snob.”  They all left and Maria ate lunch by herself for two weeks.

 

While there was really nothing wrong with Maria’s response, it was that of some a few years older and from a completely different environment than those who had grown up knowing each other.  The cause and effect might indicate that perhaps Maria really was acting like a snob or that the other girls just wanted to gossip.  It might also, depending on how the information was evaluated, indicate that the girls were reaching out to Maria the best way they knew.  We really do not know without more information regarding posture, tone and inflection, etc.  What is clear is that the cause – the professed interest of one boy to the new girl in the class – had a less than desirable effect for all involved.

 

We often make assumptions that may or may not hold true.  Take, for instance, the vegetable broccoli.  It is a member of the cabbage family and can be eaten raw or cooked.  Broccoli rabe and broccolini might be considered parts of the broccoli plant but they are actually different plants entirely.  A lobbyist for a vegetable company might try to persuade politicians to consider substituting one for the other in a school lunch program.  A less than informed populous might think that was okay.  There are differences, though.

 

Broccolini is a natural hybrid of broccoli with Chinese chard.  It gets its length from the chard and smaller florets on top from the broccoli.  Broccoli rabe, however, is more closely akin to the turnip than to broccoli.  Nutritionally, there are great differences.  A serving of broccoli rabe has 144 calories while a serving of broccoli has 31.  Both broccoli and broccolini had over 100% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C but broccoli rabe has 270% for vitamin C.  The eating of one of these three is not the same as the others so the effect on the body nutritionally would vary greatly.

 

It may seem like the Beatitudes are an ancient cause and effect rambling but really, they are as relevant today as they were almost two thousand years ago.  They offer us causality but also a positive effect.  It really depends on our perspective and how willing we are to see the positive.  Maria did eventually become friend with Logan but that was all.  Once the girls realized Maria had already had the chapters they were currently studying and she could help them pass their world geography class, they befriended her.  It took some time and patience and yes, a few tears were shed, but happiness was the final result. 

 

Eating that serving of broccolini may not instantly taste delicious but your body will really appreciate its positive effects.  It is up to us to determine how we approach the causes and subsequent effects in our own lives.  We ultimately have control of our responses and our willingness to wait out the goodness that life can offer.  By defining accurately the causes in our lives and then evaluating the effects and everything influencing them as well as our own responses, we have a much better chance of improving our living.  Today’s chaos might just turn out to be tomorrow’s blessing.