Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Courage

Lately I have noticed some courageous deeds done by some unlikely folks, kids, as a matter of fact. The TV news recently told us of a nine-year-old who drove his snowmobile alone to find help for his injured father. And then there was a seventeen-year-old who pulled two people out of a dangerous surf. Noble, of course, and unexpected as such deeds are. No one expects to be called on suddenly to save a life, and maybe risk one’s own to do so.

Courage...comes in many guises...

Courage, though, comes in many guises, and some of the most important…and often the toughest…are the instances that arise within ourselves. Would it be considered brave, does it take courage to do some of the things we must do for ourselves, the things others may not know about? I think so. Certainly it takes a lot of heart fluttering to speak up for what we believe in, knowing we’ll get some push back.

Addicted to being right...

Then there is dealing with those things to which we are addicted, and I’m not just talking about substance abuse. Yes, there is that, which eventually becomes an obvious problem. But I’m thinking of the behaviors we form over time to protect us from ever looking inward. How many of us are addicted to being right all the time? How many of us throw up unsocial behaviors so others will not see how unsure we are? How many of us disrupt everything we don’t like by reacting in anger? Or blaming others? Or refusing to listen? How many of us can respond with equanimity when impending death faces us or someone we love? Some of these situations we can only put off but not avoid.

Life is basically good...

I really do believe that life is basically good, but no one ever said that living it would be easy.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On Thinking Clearly

Turns out there is a whole lot more to thinking than just letting our minds throw up thoughts to us in a scattered manner that can beset us without rhyme or reason. Prof. Mark Muesse, teacher of Religious and Asian Studies at Rhodes College, during a course on meditation, made a distinction between what he called “skilled and unskilled” thinking. He suggested we have something to say about the kinds of thoughts we will work with. During the course of our lives, we have the ability to determine the ways in which we shall think about ourselves, others and the events of our lives. There are many questions we should ask in these regards: How shall I think about what is before me? Shall I get all upset and jump right into the confusion? Shall I resist? Shall I get angry? Shall I hold still a moment and observe rather than mindlessly act?

I can't help how I feel...

Some will say…I can’t help how I feel. Well, yes and no. We may have an immediate feeling that comes into the mind, but we do not have to continue with that feeling unless we allow ourselves to get lost in its sway. People who engage in mental/spiritual practices learn quickly that they can take charge of their thinking. They do not have to be torn to pieces by thoughts and feelings that just “run on.” They can slow down a train of thought; they can bring focus to areas of interest, and they can make a place for times of quiet, restful considerations…ideas that aren’t consumed with getting but simply being.

We do not need to leap...

There is a pragmatic flow to Buddhist thought that knows we are to be active in this world, and there is also the flow that allows for quiet acceptances and observation of the passing stream. Things come to pass, they might say, and we do not need to leap into everything before us all the time.

Clear thinking…focused, heightened, guided...lets us know when to leap and when to take a pass.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On Habits

Some say that love makes the world go ‘round. I’m not so sure. I think it’s habits. They get us up in the mornings or whatever passes for mornings; they help us dress and prepare for the day; they guide our actions during our waking period, and they get us ready for sleeping, and all this usually takes place at fairly prescribed times during a 24-hour period. Of course we can slip the traces and do some crazy things, and we do, but mostly it’s habits that have us moving along a recognizable path. Habits are those helpful, little subconscious switches in us that turn off and on, regulating our physical activities and also the ways our minds tend to work.

Running on automatic pilot...

Some days we are pretty much running on automatic pilot, sometimes going through entire days without the need to “take thought” for anything. It’s really only when we are called upon to think original thoughts that we switch over to manual power and probe the mind for what it has for us.

Some habits are time savers...

It’s not a question that habitual thinking is bad for us. Some habits are time savers. Who needs to have to learn to dress or feed ourselves all over again every day? It’s a question of how much of ourselves we are giving over to automatic processes that move us along without the need for us to check in regularly. Spiritual practices are one of these checking procedures. They help us examine whether our mental habits are healthy. Are they affirming our life energies? Are they keeping us from being curious about discovery?

...habits are not open ended...

By their natures habits are not open ended, and they are not discerning. They go down the road they were programmed…consciously or subconsciously…to take and nothing more. Habits are comfortable, even if they are not healthy, and they are scary. What if we don’t look into them to see if they still serve us? What if we are serving them? Bears thinking about, especially if we want to be up for real, self discovery on a regular basis.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On This and That

Recently my husband and I had the opportunity of having a meal with a group of regulars that we see about every quarter. When we are together I notice that, no matter how I may be feeling before we all arrive, I always go away from our together times with new energy and deep pleasure. Doubtless the togetherness we bring holds great comfort and familiarity…and we are by no means peas in a pod…but there is more than this taking place. Taking thought about it I believe I know at least some of what is happening. There is in this group the willingness to bring the diamonds and pearls, the stones and pebbles of our lives into the open so that we may all be a part of them. We do this unabashed and without worry that what we bring will be ill considered, so it is easy to go from here and there to this and that.

Nothing short of amazing...

It is nothing short of amazing to be part of the unfolding lives we are sharing, and all the thises and thats are not necessarily comfortable. Some bring illnesses that need healing…and they ask for our prayer work without embarrassment. Others bring losses that become a bit softened perhaps by being absorbed in the listening of interested friends. And, of course, there are accomplishments and pleasures which are made greater because they are received by all of us.

The open place that is theirs awaits...

We have created a history together, a collective consciousness that endures because we all are situated and invested in our changing lives. Even when some are not present each time, the open place that is theirs awaits them whenever they can come, and a gap created by their absences is closed around them.

Can friendships be this organic?

Can friendships be this organic? Can they arrive and grow without major entanglements or criticisms? Can they be this easily renewed by the simple act of being present? Apparently so. We seem to be readily available to one another, whether times are difficult, wondrous or simply giddy.

Doesn’t get better than this.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Turret at a Time


I am very fond of the use of metaphors, which are basically comparisons of similar ideas or subjects that may help in clarifying their meanings. One that I always enjoyed is this one: When you’re thinking of painting a castle, perhaps the best way to begin is by taking one turret at a time. In other words, if we find ourselves absolutely snowed by things in front of us to do, how about picking out just one place to begin? Hopefully the progression should be obvious. If we can find one small way to create an opening, the whole, imponderable pile in front of us starts to become more manageable.

Frantic never helps...

Frantic never helps. I discovered this years ago as I found myself overwhelmed by big picture concerns and had no idea where to start. There always is a starting place, but we often need to narrow our focus so that we can find an opening. Scattered searching won’t do it. There is no question that narrowed, contained thinking is difficult to do at a time when ideas, challenges, possibilities and demands are thrown at us every day, sometimes packaged so cleverly that our eyes bounce from idea to possibility to distraction without settling anywhere.

Dancing with interesting distractions...

All depends, of course, on how much we want to actually accomplish. Dancing with interesting distractions we can always do and never really resolve anything, which is ok if that’s what we want. But if we actually want to gather some arrows into our quiver (nice metaphor—yes?), we might keep our eye on one turret at a time.

Sometimes little really is big!

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Surrender

Surrender is one of the best spiritual practices there is, no question about it, but it’s good to understand what surrender can do for us. When we hear the word, most of us probably go back in memory to early 20th Century American western films with good guys and bad guys trying to get the upper hand, usually with lots of guns blazing. If one group won the skirmish, the others had to raise their hands in submission and say, “I surrender.” Bad example of a good mental/spiritual practice.

Give over, not give up...

A fine metaphysical author and teacher, Ervin Seale, had a wonderful take on surrender when he said that it meant to “give over, not give up.” Give over the problem, the concern, the thing we have been wrestling with to the greater Mind of God, which has the big picture in hand at all times. In this act there is immediate relief. We have stopped fighting. As the mythical Atlas should have done, we have lifted a weight off our shoulders and entrusted it to the wiser, more expansive power than our own. For the believer, there is encouragement and better still, the openness to solutions which can be hard to find when we are caught in the coil of a dilemma.

Surrender a situation to a new mind set...

Spiritual practices are ours to use for help with clarifying our thinking. They help us to recognize the difference between effort, which is often necessary to move ahead, and struggle, which is never fruitful and can pull us back. To be spiritually wise is to know when to surrender a situation over to a new mind set rather than exhausting ourselves in mental lacerations.

Clear guidance...

Come to think of it, active surrender at the outset of a cycle of thought could definitely lead to clear guidance to a stronger, more creative outcome without the upset in between!

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Prayer

As a minister,I have prayer as a part of my toolkit, as it is for many who try to live a life anchored in spirituality, and anyone who turns to prayer in the course of their daily activities knows that it is not always seamless and flowing. Sometimes we find ourselves fighting for every step toward the peace prayer can hold.

Prayer is a staff...

People who are not inclined to a prayerful life sometimes scoff at the supposed sentimentality they say it suggests. They see it as a crutch, a means of propping ourselves up when moving through a dark place. They are wrong; prayer is a staff, a strong arm of support when we are making our way through an unknown field to an outcome we may have fear or concern about.  And sometimes it can part the red sea.  It can make a way where before there was no way.  I think of prayer as a conscious reminder that we connected to the all-encompassing Divine. True, the connection may always be present…this is what Oneness means…but sometimes it grows dim without the light of prayer.

Pray without ceasing...

     St. Paul said to pray without ceasing, and that is a lot easier than one might think.  To the person with a prayer habit, it is a comfortable matter to stand in quiet during the day, a moment here, a moment there, letting the mind ease its way Godward for small renewals.  Words aren't necessary.  The heart knows the path.

A waiting calm...

I do not always sit easily in prayer. Sometimes the roil in my mind will not allow it, so I must move my feet as I move my lips, hoping the two will coalesce into one. Sometimes the reach for prayer opens me to a waiting calm; sometimes I wrestle my way through to a resting place at least.

I have burnished the connection...

I would like all my prayer to result in a place of quiet release and trust, and many times it does. But at other times I have to be satisfied that I have dwelt in it and not found the sweet spot, but left my impression nonetheless. It is no matter, for I have burnished the connection. Even without full, inner harmony, I know I can trust enough to make the entry, knowing it will move me at least part way.

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