Tag Archives: mindfulness

heart-prayer-vulnerability

Still noticing what I notice

My annual retreats can have long-lasting effects, and some themes from this year’s retreat continue to affect me. One theme was to notice what I notice; another was my heart and how I over-protect it.

A few weeks ago, I was searching for images related to prayer when an image of a partially-covered heart caught my attention.heart-prayer-vulnerabilityI kept coming back to this image, even though it was not what I had been seeking. But something in that heart was speaking to me, drawing me in. It was as if God was whispering to me, reveal your heart.

Perhaps God was using this image to remind me of the connection between my heart and prayer and how I need to be more vulnerable in prayer. Perhaps God was using this image as an invitation to open my heart to God and to the people I see every day.

I find my heart being stirred as I listen to the stories of people at the cancer support center where I work. Listening, I think, requires a soft heart, one that can hear without judgment, one that can hold pain and suffering alongside gratitude and hope.heart-prayer-vulnerabilityI have come to believe that most people who come to our center want to be heard as much as anything else. They want to talk about their fears and anxieties and hopes. They want to be acknowledged and affirmed.

My role is to listen to what is being said and to listen even more deeply to what is not being said. I try to pause before I speak, and I am learning to ask more questions than to offer answers. I hear myself asking, “What do you think it means?” or saying, “Tell me more about that.” And then I listen.heart-prayer-vulnerabilitySometimes, things seem much clearer to me than they seem to be to the person sitting in front of me. A significant weight loss or a change in skin color can indicate something has changed, even though the person may be unaware or in denial. Is it my job to say what I notice? I wonder.

It is so much easier to see things in others than in myself; my blind spots keep my own truths hidden. But, I believe that God is clueing me into my blind spots by what I notice in others—and inviting me to reflect back on my own issues.

So, for example, when I am particularly aware of someone being critical or judgmental, I ask myself if that awareness is connected to my own tendencies to be critical or judgmental. When I notice someone being impatient, I check my own level of patience; the same goes for fear or anger or resentment or….

Noticing what I notice helps slow me down and pay attention what is in front of me—whether it is a word in scripture or an image on my computer or someone sharing their fears. God continues to invite me to slow down and notice.
heart-prayer-vulnerability

 

retreat-meditation-mindfulness

Noticing what I notice

On the first day of my retreat last week, my director suggested that I spend some time noticing what I notice.

For much of that day I walked the grounds of the retreat center and practiced being present to what was in front of me. Little things caught my attention—the way a reed swayed in the gentle breeze; small shoots of green amid the dried-up, brown grasses; how ice formed along the edges of the creek; snow clinging to tree branches at odd angles; and the way three ducks huddled on the water with their heads tucked in for warmth (or maybe that is how they sleep?).

.retreat-mindful-meditationretreat-mindful-meditation retreat-mindful-meditation

The practice of noticing what I notice is a great way to slow down and focus. By the end of that first day, I had left my work and daily life behind me and had moved into a more meditative, prayerful space.

My friend Steve came to mind during one of my walks that first day. The previous week had marked the fourth anniversary of his death, and I welcomed this chance to spend time remembering what a blessing he was to me. Steve had been in a serious car/train crash when he was in college (he was in the car), and it was a miracle that he survived. He spent his life in deep appreciation that he was alive—and acute awareness that residual complications from the accident could claim his life at any time.

One gift of Steve’s accident was that he knew himself as totally dependent on God. His attitude toward life was open-handed—he was gentle with himself and others and did not take things too seriously.

I wondered which of my life experiences offers me that gift. What broken place within me reminds me of my total dependence on God? When had I been vulnerable and come out of the experience with a deeper appreciation for life?

One time I recall totally surrendering to God was after I left l’Arche. I had failed miserably as a l’Arche assistant, and my spirit was shattered. All my plans for spending the rest of my life in l’Arche were gone, and pride prevented me from returning to Philadelphia. My disappointment paralyzed me, and I could not see the way to rebuild my life.

In deep despair, I cried to my spiritual director, “I am falling apart!”

“No,” she said. “You are falling together.”

Her words jolted me. But I could see her point—I was already about as low as I could go; I had actually already fallen. My only hope was to give up the illusion that I was in control and surrender to God.

I recalled saying to God in resignation, “You hold all the cards!” It was both humbling and freeing.

As difficult as it was at the time, now it is a sweet memory that helped me connect with my friend Steve and God’s invitation to live more aware and open-handed, trusting in God.

Living intentionally

This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good.

What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.

When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it.

I want it to be gain not loss, good not evil, success, not failure in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.   Paul “Bear” Bryant

I found this piece when I was sorting through my friend Jim’s papers. Like Bear Bryant, I want to pay attention to how I am spending my days, to live each day conscious of what that something is that I am leaving at the end of the day.

When I ask myself what a successful day looks like, I think of how open I was to God. Was I of service to someone? Was I loving, compassionate and forgiving? Did I pay attention to the gifts God offered me throughout the day? Did I say yes more than I said no?

I begin my day letting the dog out and stepping outside with her. I like to look up to see the stars and listen for the sounds of nature.

At this time of year, the crickets are full-throated, and I love to listen to their morning song. Do they only sing in the morning? I wonder, or is there so much other noise during the day that I do not hear them?

Mary Oliver wrote in The Summer Day,

…Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

The grasshoppers in my yard are abundant and very large this year. The other day, I watched one sitting on a zinnia.

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When I can tune into the seemingly smallest things happening in nature, I can then be more open to notice the nuances of relationships, of people who are in need of a kind word or some assistance. I can slow down, listen, look and appreciate every day.

The Summer Day ends with a question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I want to live my one wild and precious life intentionally, noticing the little things that happen around me, attentive to God and the abundant gifts God offers me every day. Only then can I hope to use each day for the good God desires. Only then do I know that I am trading my day for gain, good and success.

 

 

 

Mindfulness

One wall of our parish chapel is made up of floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows. A circle of deep red-orange sits in the center panel, and from that core come colorful lines and swirls in shades of orange, yellow, purple and green. It is a beautiful mosaic, one I have looked at many times; but last week, for the first time, I noticed that the window is not one-dimensional. Pieces of glass randomly rise up from the base, adding dimension and movement. I was surprised by this discovery.

How is it possible, I wondered, that I have looked at this window so many times and not noticed this design feature?

I became intrigued by the mosaic and began to look more closely at the window, noticing the juxtaposition of shapes and colors. I sat in different areas of the chapel to give me different views of the window. I was entranced by the subtleties of its design, and as I paid more attention to the window, my appreciation for its beauty grew.

This, I think, is what being mindfulness is about, this intentionally slowing down, paying attention and noticing—looking at what is right in front of me and seeing it in a different way.

Living mindfully takes practice and energy. It requires me to focus, to notice, to look and to see. It is a discipline.

Living mindfully, it seems to me, is the antithesis of what is valued in our culture, where we love to talk about how busy we are.  Busy with what? I often wonder.

I find I am most able to be mindful early in the morning. Walking the dog, I am aware of the sun coming up and coloring the sky, of which flowers are in bloom (lilacs right now), of birds singing and squirrels playing. I am aware of the gentle breeze moving the air around me and shaking the treetops one street over. It is the most peaceful time of my day, and I am deeply appreciative for the quiet of it. Sitting on my sun porch, writing this,

Once I leave for work, though, I struggle to hold onto this level of awareness, to stay open to the little joys of my day.

I recently read an article about mindfulness, which suggested creating a calendar of positive experiences, and recording at least one moment of joy or gratitude every day. Even pausing for one moment to reflect on something positive can reshape the day and provide a different perspective.

The image of the stained-glass window is the reminder I carry these days—a reminder to look more closely and to be open to surprises that are right in front of me, if I only take the time to notice.