Sighs, Growls, and Yields

Sighs and Growls and Yields

Detours in Life

Pentecost 4

 

Most of us tend to either sigh or growl when our smooth path in life is certainly diverted to a detour.  Look up synonyms for the word “detour” and those sighs and growls are easily understood.  A detour is the long way around, a deviation, roundabout or indirect route,  a pain in the … well, you know.  Very few of us encounter a detour and go “Yippee!”  Maybe we should.

 

We like to begin our day with an agenda, a plan for getting done all that needs to be done.  We might have a to-do list; we certainly have obligations to meet.  We develop a course of action and then we proceed on it.  Life, however, has other ideas and turns our well-ordered day planning into chaos.  In short, we have to take a detour.

 

We all too often think of detours as stop signs.  We need to recognize that detours are really opportunities, diversions to look at life more fully.  When I began this series, I had it all planned out.  The series will encompass over one hundred and eighty articles but I had it all worked out.  Whew!  Then a family member’s surgery, the death of a close friend, some technical issues (Updates are really exercises in patience, I’ve decided!), and weather delays made mush out of my carefully calculated series.  In short, I found myself on a detour.  And I did not like it.

 

Detours are diversion, not stop signs and yet, we tend to treat them as if they were.  Stop signs are not the end of everything, either.  A stop sign means you got from point A to point B and need to take a moment to look around before proceeding to point C.  Nothing more, nothing less is indicated by a stop sign.  It is not failure but rather a sign of progression.  A dead end street does not need a stop sign; it simply ends.

 

Another sign one encounters on the road is a yield sign.  Usually we are happy when we come upon a yield sign because it means we don’t have to come to a complete stop every time.  We can simply merge into the traffic, providing the path is clear.  I live in a town with a great many yield signs and I cannot think of one that has not been the scene of at least one traffic accident. 

 

All too often we simply merge into the mainstream of flow without really looking at where we are going.  We “go with the flow” but do we really know or care where the flow is headed?  Life is too important to simply merge into the masses.  We need to take the time to stop and discover who we really are and what we really want.  My detour with this series did just that for me.

 

My first detour sign was realizing my own aggravation and frustration that was a bit excessive.  I needed to relax and take a break.  I decided to color, a long favorite activity that has become a great stress reliever.  However, IO began to pressure myself to create a perfect picture.  I copied a picture to color and, instead of trying to make it perfect, I attempted to make it creative.    Jeff and Joan Stanford run a retreat and Joan has some great thoughts about our need for taking a detour and exploring play.  “Connecting to creativity is essential to our health… Coloring within the lines is relaxing but the power lies in creating, in discovering and expressing inner imagery.”  In short, there is power when we take a detour.

 

Sylvia Boorstein was recently interviewed by Michael McConnell for an article entitled “What to Do When Your Mind Starts to Growl” in the most recent issue of Spirituality and Health Magazine.  I purchased the issue for a peace on praying, and then discovered an article on mindfulness.  Life interrupted my reading until my sudden detour for this series had me cleaning up.  In this article Boorstein comments:  “People can get tunnel vision and get very clear about what will or won’t work in a given situation…It’s actually good to have a mind that growls so you can figure out what needs to be done.”

 

My detour had me growling and sighing and then I began to think, ponder and relax.  Within that relaxation I found the beauty of my detour and began enjoying the diversion.  The detour sign was leading me to new experiences and new pathways.  It was not a sign of failure but one of change.  That is what detours are, after all.  They represent growth.  My growling and sighing are sign of growth, not failure. 

 

It important to remember is that our lives are too important to live them merging into the masses.  We are unique and wonderfully created individuals.  We need to explore and celebrate our detours for what they are – an opening for better living, necessary growth, and brighter prospects for the future.

Sunday Afternoon Detours

Sunday Afternoon Detours

Detours in Life

Pentecost 3

 

At least three out of every four Sunday afternoons my family would pile into our car and we would drive.  Sometimes we’d take a picnic and eat along some scenic spot and other times we would go out to eat Sunday luncheon and then drive.  Occasionally we would be coming home from visiting relatives out of town.  Sunday afternoon, though, often found us in the car driving.

 

Car rides are not always enjoyable since children seldom take to confined spaces very well.  This was back in the days before portable cassette tape machines or DVD players.  Entertainment was found by counting the number of cars in a particular color or playing Car bingo – looking for specific models or houses of a certain color.  The occasional large truck would pass and sometimes blow its horn but mostly we would talk and enjoy nature that we passed.

 

These rides to nowhere are some of my most favorite memories of my father.  We always had a general idea of where we were going but we seldom got there by following a straight line or by going the most expedient route.  At least twice every Sunday we would need to turn around, often the three-point turn being done with no shoulder and the chance spectator in th3e form of an errant cow or squirrel.

 

Detours are usually accompanied with frustration but these Sunday detours we always ended up taking were characterized by laughter.  I never realized they would later serve as a metaphor of life for me.  Getting somewhere is very important, especially if you need to meet an airline’s schedule or set up for a meeting.  Often, though, we let our frustration with life’s detours blind us to the opportunities they offer us.

 

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, once said that “When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.”  It is sage advice because, I can promise you, life will present a great many roadblocks in your living.  The important thing to remember when we encounter such is that detours can be fun and are always educational.

 

On this day that we honor fathers, it is important to remember that fatherhood is not a straight line either.  It is fraught with trials and errors, laughter and tears, accomplishments and frustrations.  No one is perfect; no life is perfect.  Remember to enjoy the detours you encounter and recognize that even in the unexpected deviations and diversions, there can be laughter.

Feeling the Spirit

Feeling the Spirit

Pentecost 2

 

It is a common debate, especially in these times.  Similar to the age-old question of “which came first – the chicken or the egg?”, it seems that science and religion are at odds when we discuss the spirit of living.  Albert Einstein is not thought of as a great spiritualist.  He is considered by many to be the consummate scientist.  “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

 

This series is about the detours life gives us and we all have them.  How we respond to those detours is often determined by the spirit within ourselves which is based upon the spirits we believe to exist.  IN an introduction to a chapter about C. S. Lewis, James Taliaferro wrote the following prayer:  ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts.  Kindle in us the fire of your love.”

 

Taliaferro’s prayer is quite simple, just two sentences that are actually quite simple sentences.  Yet, he manages to summarize not only the season of Pentecost but the way we should navigate life’s detours.  We all believe in some great spirit, whether it be the Holy Spirit of the Christian trinity, the spirit of a great healer, the spirit of Mother Nature, or a prophet named Buddha, Mohammed, or any of the other hundreds of spiritual teachers the world has known. 

 

C. S. Lewis, at a point in his early adulthood, identified with those who claimed to be agnostic or atheist.  “I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention.”  Within the next decade, however, he had become quite impressed with the universal longing in all cultures for a connection with a reality of a greater spirit than mere mortal humans possessed.

 

Taliaferro explains:  “Through his own study of religious experience and the arguments for and against a belief in God, Lewis came to think of the longing for joy as something that echoes and reflects the reality of God.  He sought to uncover the source and richer meaning of the goods of creation.”

 

Isn’t this what detours offer us – a chance to discover new meanings of our own living?  Let’s think about what a detour really is.  Simply put, it is a redirection of our normal path.  For months I went to a particular store following a specific route.  It was not perhaps the quickest route but it was, in my opinion, the safest and the most expedient, given all the factors such as traffic patterns, number of cars on the road, my preferences for driving with street junctions having stoplights or stop signs rather than yield signs, etc.  Then one day, about seven years into my prescribed route, a bridge was replaced.  I needed to find a detour.  There were a number of possible routes I could choose but I took one that was a bit unusual.  In doing so, I discovered a great new restaurant.

 

Would my life have been drastically altered or the quality of my living drastically affected if I had never found that restaurant?  Of course it would not have been and yet, I did find it and enjoy it.  I discovered in my inconvenience a great new place to eat and some new foods to enjoy.  I would not have starved without this experience but it did make the detour more enjoyable.

 

When I was a child we would take Sunday afternoon drives.  We were a busy family and the other days of the week we were all going in different directions.  The Sunday drives, however, were free-driving – we simply headed out in one direction until the road stopped or turned into something else.  We found new picnic areas, saw the runways being built as part of a new airport, enjoyed the sounds of nature and laughed when we had to back up half a mile because there was no room to turn around.  We sought out the detours and reveled in the joy of living.

 

One of the advantages of our Sunday drives was leaning how to tell which direction we were going.  By using the signposts of life available to us such as the position of the sun or the effect of prevailing winds on high tree tops. We discovered an internal sense of self and direction.  Yes we often got lost but somehow, by remaining calm and confident, we always found our way home, even if it meant asking for help.

 

Detours remind us that we are not here to simply follow the end of our nose but to expand our being and share our experiences.  C. Joybell C. explains it this way:  ““I consider myself a stained-glass window. And this is how I live my life. Closing no doors and covering no windows; I am the multi-colored glass with light filtering through me, in many different shades. Allowing light to shed and fall into many, many hues. My job is not to direct anything, but only to filter into many colors. My answer is destiny and my guide is joy. And there you have me.”  The true spirit of life is found in living it.  Once you realize this, you have found your own internal great spirit.

Comment Concert

Comment and Concert

Easter 48-49

 

This series on mindfulness has been an interesting one for me and I hope for you as well.  The comments have also been interesting, especially those in the last few days.  “Okay so I did some mindfulness exercise; my life still stinks.”  “I lived in the moment, experiencing each second and it did not change a thing.”  There have been several others but most follow along the lines of these two.

 

The purpose of mindfulness exercises is not to suddenly change the tides of time or the course of the world.  They do help us define the moment.  Rather like variations on a theme.  This evening I attended a lovely choral concert.  Throughout the program they sang three different variations of the same poem which was actually a hymn text dating back to 1784.  Sometimes our life is just like that.

 

“The tree of life my soul hath seen. Laden with fruit and always green. …For happiness I long have sought. And pleasure dearly I have bought.”  The words of the text might well describe our living.  Each day out own tree of life blossoms and grows and yes, some aspects do wither and die.  When we utilize mindfulness in our living, we bear the fruit of the moment.  With being mindful of each moment, we can then partake of the moment.  “This fruit doth make my soul to thrive.  It keeps my dying faith alive.”

 

Life sometimes requires us to take a detour and that is the subject of our next series during the season of Pentecost.  We will discuss the detours of life by using some of the world’s most ancient lyrical texts and our own updated versions, how being mindful can help us to improve our living.  Francis Bacon, Sr. once said:  “Begin what you want to do now.  We are not living in eternity.  We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.”

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.

Exercise Equals Good Health

Exercise Equals Good Health

Easter 36-46

 

Exercise does a body good.  We all know that.  However, mindfulness exercises will also provide health benefits, not just to our body but for our mental and emotional health as well.  The conversations we have in this blog, into my head as well as yours, are all about creating and maintain a healthy spiritual lifestyle.  After all, if our spirit is not willing, our living will and is compromised.

 

Clinician Elizabeth Scott is a enthusiastic advocate of mindful exercises.  “The practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results. Mindfulness can pull you out of the negative downward spiral that can be caused by too much daily stress, too many bad moods, or the habit of rumination.”

 

Life is messy.  We all know that.  Stress is a natural consequence of the messiness in our lives.  One of the best ways to combat stress is to meditate.  A key element for meditation is finding a quiet space, free of distractions and interruptions.  On one particularly stressful job site, I would go into the restroom, run some warm water and purposely take sixty seconds to wash my hands.  I would concentrate on the warmth of the water and imagine it radiating throughout my core.  Then I pictured all my stress going down the drain. 

 

Mediation can be a bit difficult if you are not accustomed to do it.  There are many different ways to meditate but one of the most basic is to simply listen to your thoughts.  Then imagine if someone else were saying them to you.  What would your response be?  Focused meditation relies on living in the moment.  That means putting aside what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, and simply concentrate on this moment in time right now.  Activity meditation uses a physical activity or movement to help one meditate.  Some people paint, others garden and many do yoga.

 

Clinician Scott advises these ways to being to practice meditation.  “Meditation can be practiced in many different ways.  While there are numerous different meditation techniques, a common thread runs through virtually all meditative techniques:

Quiet Mind: With meditation, your thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. For example, start thinking about nothing now. (It’s OK, I’ll wait.) If you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.

Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This, too, takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past.

Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.”

 

Other mindfulness exercises include some we have previously discussed like deep breathing.  When we concentrate on our inhalations and exhalations, we tend to release some of our stress.  I once knew a man who would draw a square with his index finger in his pants pocket or on his pants leg under a conference table.  As he did this, he would regulate his breathing and reduce his stress. 

 

Music is also a great way to release stress and live in the moment.  It doesn’t really matter the genre of music.  Music is a communication and the feelings it evokes can be used to reduce stress and create a better sense of well-being.  Eating slowly can also be a mindfulness exercise.  Too many of us gobble our food down but if we eat each bite slowly, chewing multiple times per bite, it can be a way to fully experience the tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of the moment.  It will also improve your digestion!

 

The mundane activities we do daily, like making the bed, washing dishes, sweeping, or cleaning a counter can be turned into mindfulness activities as can other things we take for granted.   Sometimes the biggest deterrent to practicing mindfulness is turning off the voice in our own head.    Scott encourages making mindfulness a habit and turning chores and daily activities into an opportunity for mindfulness.  “Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)”

 

Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said:  “Under duress we don’t raise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.”  The development of mindfulness and the use of it daily create a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensation, and surrounding environment.  This will lead to a development of heartfulness, the intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.  The world and we certainly need more of that.

The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

Easter #32-35

 

We all know those friends who firmly believe that misery loves company.  They are the ones who seem to thrive on drama and simply cannot wait to share their latest event that has occurred in their lives.  Part of being a friend is listening but sometimes friendship is a one-way street with all the sharing being done by the other person.

 

Often a person who is abaitual whiner is someone who is best listened to and ignored.  Sometimes just being there and then giving them some space to work through their latest incident is all that is desired.  A hug or simple hand squeeze can also work wonders.

 

Sharing anxiety is not generally a way for someone to control your own emotions.  However, we need to be certain that we do not, in the guise of being a good friend or coworker, buy someone else’s problems nor fall prey to their panic.  It has become fashionable to use drama to make one seem important and that is sad, in my opinion.  Coping with issues does not improve someone’s esteem; living so that you do have control over issues does.

 

So how do we control our reactions when a friend simply has to “rant” or talk about their latest difficulty?  A mindfulness expert and spiritualist, Thich Nhat Hanh, has some great advice and it uses something as simple as a facial half-smile.

 

Anytime or place you find yourself affected by someone’s expressed anxieties as well as life’s curveballs in your own life, simply make a half-smile with your mouth.  Nhat Hanh advises to look at “anything which is relatively still and smile.”  Maintain the spot of your attention as you own true nature.”

 

Music is a great way to escape and cope with anxiety.  It is especially easy with today’s technology to listen to music for two or three minutes practically anywhere.  If the piece is instrumental, listen to the different instrumentations.  Whether pop or operatic, focusing on the words is another way to zoom in on the mindfulness of the moment.  The tempo, style, and/or rhythms also help convey the sentiment of the music.  Allow your mind to concentrate on that and then focus on your breathing to help discover calmness and peace.

 

When you realize you are becoming anxious or irritated, half-smile; then slowly inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining the half-smile for three breaths.  Relax for a minute or two and then repeat this.   Breathing is a well-known way to pace one’s emotions.  Combine it with walking or slow deliberate arm or hand movements.  Once you have combined your movement with your breathing, you can lengthen you inhalations for twenty to thirty seconds and then return to a normal breathing pattern. 

 

We cannot control life or what people relate to us but we can control our responses.  When we act instead of reacting to the drama of life and those around us, we are able to reduce the anxiety that often seems contagious.  By using mindfulness, we are able to act.

 

If you can, find the time to sit in silence and imagine a leaf drifting slowing through the air as it descends.  Allow yourself to slowly imagine yourself coming to a gentle resting place on the earth (or chair or bed).  Continue meditating on the lead as it gradually comes to eath, allowing your mind and body to also arrive at a place of rest, a place of calm and joy.

 

Being mindful and present in a place of peace and joy is the perfect response when someone disrupts your calm.  We can and should be compassionate with others buy we should not buy their problems.  To offer calm and peace is a gift we give to others and ourselves by being mindful of the joy of living.