Meditation Talks – An Introduction

toolsIn summer 2016, I joined the leadership team of a Christian meditation group that I attend regularly on Saturday mornings, upon invitation by Tom Lehmkuhl. Tom was a founding member of the group and is a Benedictine oblate with a charge for Christian meditation.  Tom invited me to help at a second group as well, but I couldn’t make it to their Tuesday morning timeslot. As it happened, a few months after Tom’s invitation, I left my paying job.  One of the things I looked forward to during my self-funded sabbatical, was the opportunity to join Tom’s second meditation group.  This week, I gave my first talk at the Tuesday morning meditation group.

In celebration, I’m launching a new area of my blog, to archive the talks and music played as the interlude preceding each talk.

The group meditation sessions follow a set format:

  • 10-15 minutes of quiet music, e.g. Ambient 1/2 by Brian Eno
  • an verbal introduction to begin meditation, starting promptly at the scheduled time
  • three strikes on a bowl gong to begin the meditation
  • 25 minutes of silent meditation
  • a single strike of the bowl gong
  • ~3 minutes of interlude music
  • a brief talk, usually ~5 minutes, related to meditation

If you’re already meditating, hopefully you’ve already found a meditation group. Meditating with others is very supportive — just like praying with others.  Hopefully reading these talks will also encourage you in your meditation practice.

If you haven’t meditated before, I recommend that you give it a try.  You’ll need a mantra (also called a “mantram”).  Tom Lehmkuhl recommends “Yahweh”.  “Maranatha” is also recommended by spiritual leaders.  Eknath Easwaran’s philosophy on choosing a mantram is a good resource before making a decision.

Meditation at home and in the two groups has brought much peace and encouragement for me.  Now, leading these meditation sessions brings me much joy, as I write them, choose the music, and share them with the others.  By posting the talks and music links online, I hope to pass these blessings along.

Happy New Year!

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21st Century Citizenship

old-gloryI read an article this morning that bemoaned the increasing distrust Americans have of the news media.  At first, this seems scary.  We as a nation have relied on Freedom of the Press for decades, relying on the news to educate ourselves, so that we might perform our civic duty at the ballot box.  If we distrust the news, who can we rely on to educate ourselves?

Looking closer, this distrust may be a symptom of a healthy electorate, much like a fever in someone who is ill. After all, editorial decisions made by this station or that newspaper, even when reporters are covering the same events, can change our opinions. Just compare the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, a local Fox news broadcast, a local NBC news program, and NPR radio on the same day.  Not only is the same news reported differently, with different headlines, but you can see what is not being covered, as yet another editorial decision.  Isn’t distrust an appropriate response?

Yes.  And no.  Like a fever that has gotten too high and gone on for too long, there’s a point where the healthy response becomes dangerous. We need the media to help us be aware of what is going on in the world, and to distill it down into digestible pieces, yes, even sound bites, so that we can make informed choices.  But we can’t delegate the role entirely to one source.

We, as Americans in the 21st Century, have many choices of mainstream and alternate media, and if we choose, we can also stay connected to many different personal sources of “what is going on in the world.” So what can we do?  Two things:

  1. Remind yourself that your experience of the world will define your world view, and other Americans are limited by this same reality.  What I experience in my county is not the same experience as someone else fifteen minutes away in the same county — much less someone half way across the country.  This is not “right” and “wrong” — this is just reality.
  2. When your news sources are completely in synch with your experience of the world, Fix It.  Start reading articles from other friends.  Read another newspaper, watch a different channel, or listen to a different radio station — not exclusively, but enough so you can hear the voices of people in different neighborhoods, who have different experiences.

In the end, We The People need to be an informed electorate.  If we allow our distrust of the media to turn into demonization, if we only listen to voices that have our own world view, then We The People will have a much harder time working across the aisles and zip codes, to find solutions to the problems we all share.

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God is at work in the world

I believe that God is at work in the world, and the Holy Spirit is working within us to be where we’re supposed to be, to do the things that need to be done, to serve, to love, and to learn.

That last part, to learn, is the hardest thing, I think.  I like life to be nice, comfortable, and easy, and people to be friendly and kind, and for them to come to the same conclusions that I do.  But that G-rated world is not the real world.  The Holy Spirit has some hard problems to tackle, in places that aren’t pleasant, with people that might be friendly and kind in some circumstances, but are quite antagonistic in other situations.   How are we, the hands and body and feet of the Divine, going to help with those hard problems, if we don’t get some practice with things that aren’t nice, or comfortable, or easy?  After all, with enough practice, we’ll discern which types of problems we’re good at, which problems suit others’ talents better, and which ones we never knew we could meet head-on, grounded in our faith.

People who know me will know that conflict is out of my comfort zone.  It’s not getting much better with age – I have to send my daughter and husband to the movies without me sometimes, if the conflict is going to be too intense.  But over the years I’ve also learned that in situations of real-life conflict, I can trust that the Holy Spirit is at work.  I might not enjoy it — I might rather crawl into a hole and pull the cover over my head – but with God’s help, I can be present, breathe, and listen to the other person, and then respond in a way that is grounded in the commandments – Love God, and Love Your Neighbor.

And lest I forget, and get too sure of my position or point of view, I also remind myself that I too am part of the world.   I just might be part of the problem that the Holy Spirit is working on.

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Feeling It

I don’t like to feel angry.  Or irritated. Or distraught.  Or indignant.  Or defensive.  Or threatened.  Or offended.  Or afraid.  And yet, it seems almost impossible to avoid negative feelings these days.  There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  I can filter on Facebook.  I can tighten my circle of friends and the stores where I shop. I can block calls on my cell phone and screen calls on the landline.  But the feelings will find me.

I don’t want to feel this way.  How can I escape?  Comfort food.  A glass of wine.  A nap.  A trip to a favorite getaway.  Exercise.  A novel.  A movie.   A ball game.  A snuggle.  Some TV. Endorphins and distraction work for a little while, but they’re temporary.  The planet keeps turning, and those negative emotions keep on coming.

What to do?  Pray?  Yes, ask for help from God, and invite others to pray, too.  Meditate?  Yes, sacrifice some time — the most valuable thing I have — every day, and sit with God.  But isn’t there anything else I can do about the way I feel?

Well, maybe I can change my perspective on these negative feelings — look at them a different way.  I just finished a little book called Taking the Leap, by Pema Chödrön, and I keep returning to the end of the chapter on The Importance of Pain:

Whatever pleasure or discomfort, happiness or misery you are experiencing, you can look at other people and say to yourself, “Just like me they don’t want to feel this kind of pain.” Or, “Just like me they appreciate feeling this kind of contentment.”

When things fall apart and we can’t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us, when the whole thing just is not working and we don’t know what to do,…[t]his is our chance to come out of our self-protecting bubble and to realize that we are never alone.  This is our chance to finally understand that wherever we go, everyone we meet is essentially just like us.  Our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us to a loving relationship with the world.

Turn toward suffering?  Yes, turn toward it.  So if I can’t stop the bad feelings, perhaps I can use them.  I can get in touch with my dark side.  As Pema Chödrön says, I can “lean in”, and feel the negativity.  I can recognize that the “other” I see around me and try to avoid, is also in me.  By feeling the dark side, I can find more strength to act for the good.

 

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Unthinkable

How does your news outlet report the tragedy in Orlando? I raised my eyebrows this morning as I read the Wall Street Journal cover story: “The Orlando attack is the latest in a string of incidents that have shaken Americans in recent years, including the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting and the Fort Hood shootings in Texas.” Why did reporter Peter Nicholas choose those three, where Muslim extremism was involved? What about the movie theatre in Aurora? What about the church meeting in Charleston? What about Sandy Hook?

Yes, Islamic extremism is a serious problem – in other parts of the world as well as here. But how does solving that problem address all the other shootings here in the US? I’m with President Obama — this isn’t an either-or. We have a problem with radicalization. We have a problem with gun violence. We need to address both. Do I think we will? Unfortunately, no. The root cause is in the minds of the shooters, beyond the reach of any legislation or quick-fix policy.

We could make it more difficult to obtain automatic weapons, and reduce the numbers for any given attack, but read the Washington Post article on mass shootings— and decide for yourself if that’s the solution. I tend to agree with this perspective, “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” Why spend more energy on that pointless debate?

Instead, let’s talk about how we change the hearts and minds of ALL shooters, before they become headlines. What can we do — or stop doing — to put this sort of violence into realm of unthinkable, where it belongs?

[Originally posted on Facebook in response to the Orlando shooting.]

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Poetry for Life

DSCF1121-3English was one of my favorite subjects in high school.  I enjoyed pouring my thoughts into a journal, and have continued that practice off and on for years.  I suppose that blogging is in some ways just a continuation of the creative writing that had its beginnings back then.  When I’m re-reading my emails at work, I know the brain cells looking for spelling and grammar mistakes were trained by countless exercises in English class, too.

Yet, what I remember most from high school English lessons was the poem “Inspiration” by Henry David Thoreau.  The first verse is emblazoned in memory, and comes unbidden to my mind, when I’m feeling tired, overwhelmed, or both.

Whate’er we leave to God, God does,
And blesses us;
The work we choose should be our own,
God lets alone.

The poem contains other wonderful verses, and I invite you to get the full poem from a publisher, on your Kindle or your bookshelf of poetry, especially if you’re a writer or a poet.  If you have any anthologies there, it may already be in your collection. In the meantime, let his words be my gift to you, and to my future self.

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Is this all there is?

Nitobe Memorial Garden in SpringSitting on the bench in the Japanese garden, I was asked by a couple walking by, “Is this all there is?” I answered aloud, “Yes,” and silently, “Isn’t this enough?” Two acres of carefully designed and cared for garden on a sunny spring day: new growth on every plant, stunning reflections of the trees in the pond, magical reflections of sunlight on the trees, the sounds of the waterfalls, slender iris piercing the dark, rich earth of their beds, big camellia blooms, and tiny buds and blossoms on tree branches.  My camera had been busy, feasting on the beauty every few steps, macro, wide angle, and video all found inspiration in the springtime scene.  “Is this all there is?”

It seems to me that the question itself bears some reflection.  Is there any fault in wanting more?  Certainly if you are in a miserable situation, that question could be a healthy one to ask yourself. But in most cases, if that question arises, I would counter, “Are you paying attention? Are you noticing the natural beauty, the artistry, the engineering, the craftsmanship, the ingenuity, that surrounds you? Are you using all the lenses of the camera of your mind?”

Life is short. The garden of your life may only have two acres. But if you slow down, pay attention, you may find that in all there is, abundance is just waiting for your discovery.DSCF0803

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