Oct 27 2011

{Day 27} Vegging Out and other Habits of Distraction

Over the past month of considering contemplative living, I’ve invited you to reflect on your activities and start to make cause and effect connections. I would imagine that you’ve discovered that some activities encourage your intention to pay attention to the present moment, and some distract, escape, or numb you–heart, mind or spirit–to now.

Anything can be used as a distraction to contemplative attention. As I suggested in an earlier post, sometimes the present moment is simply too much and we have a desire to take shelter, to feel safe or “get our mind off” something. It’s an understandable response and often a self-protective skill.

Today, I’d like for you to consider that response without judgment.

When used occasionally, sheltering activities are often enjoyable and allow us to relax. But they can over time and practice, become habits of distraction. Then, whenever the troublesome feeling or weariness or need to escape arises, we distract ourselves. Rather than exploring, gently and patiently, what may be the cause of the unpleasant emotions or thoughts or physical feeling, we choose to focus attention elsewhere.  I have a theory that people who are drawn to contemplative living often face stronger temptations to escape the present moment.

Let me offer an example from my own life of how a common activity can easily become a distraction from the present moment.

I’ve always loved stories–I easily get caught up in them. I’m also an introvert. For me, screen media offers the enjoyment of adventure, people, places, ideas, and relationships, all from the safety of my own desk. I need only watch.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about a growing conviction of mine that screen media had encroached upon my ability to pay attention to reading, academic study, and people around me. I had given away my TV years ago, but found that the time I was spending via the internet, involved in the story lives of so many characters were taking a toll. I was no longer simply enjoying the experience, but using the screen stories to distract myself from dealing with my own life. At one point, I asked God about some of my struggles with living a contemplative life and his response was clearly, “Are you willing to do what it takes?”

What it took, initially, was a 40 day fast from all screen media. I told my dear friend Kimberlee and asked her to hold me accountable. For good measure, I put internet blocks on websites like Hulu and cancelled my Netflix account.

The first week was difficult, especially when I was tired. At one point, I found myself pacing my apartment, wanting to escape the silence, wanting desperately to get lost in a story.

What God showed me is that these stories were only a substitute to deeply paying attention to my own.

By the second week, I found my thinking clearer and the sense of resistance that I’d always felt, but could never figure out its cause, disappeared. Everything seemed more real. I had more mental and emotional energy.

Rather than getting lost in a story, I sat with what I was feeling or thinking. Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, suggests that the way out of attachments is not to find a replacement attachment or addiction–something healthier, yet just as much an idol–but to sit in the spaciousness of what was once present, in all the scary vulnerable openness.

Or I simply rested, since most often the desire to watch a show or movie came when I was weary.

After the initial 40 days, I completed two more 40 day periods.  It didn’t become a permanent change in my life, but I did learn to stay in the moment more often than escaping. I’m currently allowing myself some screen media each week, but very aware that (for me) it is just shy of becoming a distracting activity again. I will most likely be doing another fast for the 40 days of (Celtic) Advent.

What is important about paying attention to our distractions is that, while anything can become a distraction, nothing really is. Just by paying attention to the coping mechanisms you’re using, just by noticing, “Oh, I check my email when I’m craving human interaction,” or “I click over to Facebook when my work starts to bore me,” transforms the distraction into food for contemplative reflection.

Sit with the craving. Sit with the boredom. Let it share its wisdom. Let God meet you exactly where you are.

While the distraction can take you out of the present moment, paying attention to the distraction (and the vulnerability it is masking) brings you right back in.

And, whenever we begin to pay attention, we can asked the question, “Where is God with me right now?”

Practice: You probably already have some ideas about an activity that has become a distraction for you–TV, movies, internet, social network, exercise, shopping, cell phone use, work, a relationship, the list could hold anything.

Choose the one that you are most likely to do when you are tired–the “vegging out” activity.

I invite you to let it go for a time. Instead, sit with your weariness, frustration, sadness, loneliness, whatever it is you’re wanting to leave behind.  Listen to it, don’t leave.

Bring how you are feeling into your conversation with God.


Oct 14 2011

{Day 14} Friday Florilegium

Yesterday, I read a fabulous children’s story aloud to Jane and Jack, The Bootmaker and the Elves. I loved the story, the Texan twang of the dialogue, and the captivating artwork. I also loved the creative transformation of the main character, all captured in just a few pages.

In the spirit of that story, I got out one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems that also celebrates paying attention to the small and unnoticed, and its invitation to mystery.

“Just a minute,” said a voice…

Just a minute,” said a voice in the weeds.
So I stood still
in the day’s exquisite early morning light
and so I didn’t crush with my great feet
any small or unusual thing just happening to pass by
where I was passing by
on my way to the blueberry fields,
and maybe it was the toad
and maybe it was the June beetle
and maybe it was the pink and tender worm
who does his work without limbs or eyes
and does it well
or maybe it was the walking stick, still frail
and walking humbly by, looking for a tree,
or maybe, like Blake’s wondrous meeting, it was
the elves, carrying one of their own
on a rose-petal coffin away, away
into the deep grasses. After awhile
the quaintest voice said, “Thank you.” And then there was silence.
For the rest, I would keep you wondering.

 


Jul 27 2011

Night bus companions

I got on the 71 in the University District after an enjoyable dinner with my friend Julia.  Riding a Seattle bus from the Ave to downtown at night never fails to be just another commute.

As the sun quietly disappears and the bus windows reflect back the humanity rubbing shoulders in this moving metal cylinder,  the gathering of party-heels and mini-skirts, make-up, tattoos, piercings, workers, homeless, lonely, and teens is sometimes poignant, sometimes loud, often perfumed with eau-de-bourbon, and occasionally scary.

But most of the time, it’s simply quiet with an undercurrent of loneliness–everyone pretending to be invisible, lost in their own reverie, attached to iPods and listening to their life soundtracks alone.

As I quickly scanned the full bus, taking a seat, I determined the relative peacefulness of the riders and took in the details of clothes, and expressions. Always, for a mind-expanding moment, I’m suddenly aware that everyone has a life of complex relationships and histories, everyone had a “day” and that day was different than mine, unconnected but for city–except we’re all now together on the 71.

I snapped out of my cosmic musings when a movement across from me revealed a rabbit. Surprised, all my surreptitious people-watching skill failed. I simply stared.

Gently held in an older man’s arms was a large charcoal gray bunny.

The man had an animal carrier on his lap, but the rabbit was clearly content looking out the window from the safety of his owner’s embrace. After the man’s seatmate left, he put the creature on his shoulder, and there he (she?) confidently sat, nose moving rapidly.

Whenever the bus slowed to a stop, the man carefully reached a hand up and held his friend in place.  When things got chaotic, he brought the bunny back to the safety of his arms and the creature snuggled close.

The man saw me watching. I smiled, but he looked away. I’m sure he was used to looks. Dogs and cats on the bus are common sights. A Metro-riding rabbit was a new one in all my bus-commuting years.

What captivated me, though, was not the uniqueness of his companion, nor that said companion seemed so unfazed by the busy bus, but the affection so obvious between them.

Love emanated from the man toward his little friend. He cared for his companion in a way I’ve rarely seen other riders act with their dogs or cats. And though reading the thoughts of a rabbit is beyond me, the bunny seemed confident and caring of his friend as well, nuzzing his cheek, content to relax in his arms or on his shoulder.

They cherished each other, attended to each other. Witnessing the affection, in a setting often marked by a quiet, desperate loneliness, brought tears to my eyes.

Companion is from the Latin companis, with-bread.

They were the food of love for each other.

Love takes many forms. As they left the bus, man and rabbit, I silently thanked them. On a night bus ride of anonymity shone a bond of companionship, that for a brief moment caught me as a witness in its embrace.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

Sep 27 2010

Feathered Gratitude

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268. Grateful for the little hummers visiting me today.

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269. For the little feet.

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270. For the amazing wings.

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271. For glints of iridescent red.

272. For the Creator God who designed these little hovercraft and that they always show up when I need to remember Love.  They are God’s laughing “Yes!” to me.

(for more hummingbird delight, go to my photostream here)

And….

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273. Now back from an emergency trip to be with my parents in Texas, I am so grateful that my dad is doing better after being in the hospital!

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Aug 2 2010

Thank-Full

Mondays are for gratitude…counting to 1000 and beyond…

Ben and family

221. The twinfants were born to my dear friends Kimberlee and Doug: Ben and Luke.  After a scary week, my godson Ben is doing much better, breathing on his own now. So thankful! Photos coming soon.

222. For the team of dedicated people at Group Health and Childrens’ Hospital.

223. For the prayers of the church community for these little ones.

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224. A wonderful ordination service and send-off for my friends John and Tara.

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225. Continued gratitude for help getting settled: Cindy’s generous roadside find and her taking me on a trip to Fred Meyer to create a balcony haven.

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226. A little beauty to inspire restful sleep…

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227. My serene little guardian, Theophilus.

228.  Vivaldi

229.  Foggy mornings, sunny afternoons.

230. Good conversations with my parents.

231.  Red and yellow finches, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers feasting at the feeder.

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232. Redemption of the past and prayer’s wonderful retroactive aspect.

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Jul 19 2010

Three Weeks of Thanks

Mondays are for gratitude…counting to 1000 and beyond…

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“We never know where God hides His pools.  We see a rock, and we cannot guess it is the home of the spring.  We see a flinty place, and we cannot tell it is the hiding place of a fountain.  God leads me into the hard places, and then I find I have gone into the dwelling place of eternal springs.”  Streams in the Desert, July 5th

The past three weeks have been full of wonders and many things to be thankful for as I moved into my new apartment (aka The Contemplative Cottage) and spent time with friends.  Looking back on my worries about leaving Boston and then the fears about choosing this apartment, I can’t believe I doubted! The above quote from one of my favorite devotionals captures my feeling now as I sit at my desk.  God knew exactly what place I needed to embark on the next and final stage of my PhD.

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206. Wonderful furniture from friends, rides for moving stuff, and shelves for my books.

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207. Fourth of July beauty shared with friends.

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208. Little Sarah.

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209. An afternoon on a mountain river without a clock or email or cell phone (not having reception was a great Sabbath stop!).   Forever inspired by nature artist Andy Goldsworthy (a lovely excerpt from Rivers and Tides here), I tried my hand at building a cairn…

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…and discovered water bugs that look deceptively like little twigs–until they start walking around.  Yes, what you think are pieces of bark are really three life forms!

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210. Camping fun with friends.

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211. Exploring mossy woods with my young adventuring friend.

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212. A sunlit glen hidden off the trail.

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213. After giving myself a break the past few months, I finally had the feeling on Saturday, “It’s time to begin again,” so I stacked the main books for a dissertation chapter on my desk.  I had worried that the academic push of the last 5 years had permanently ended my love of reading and writing and even theological study, but each day I’ve been finding evidence that there are still embers of this vocation glowing, which God is gently fanning back into flame.

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214. A lovely afternoon at Kimberlee’s twinfant shower.

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215. Black-capped chickadee enjoying a feast.

216. Bible study books are not usually satisfying for me, but Cynthia Heald’s Becoming a Woman of Excellence has really opened my eyes to some life-giving insights. I’d love to go through it with a small group.

217. It seems that the twinfants have decided to stay put until they are full term.

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218. For the Word’s challenge and the Holy Spirit’s conviction this week,  and the hope that God provides the heart’s treasure.

220. Matt Maher’s song “Hold Us Together.”  On July 4th, Pastor Dan told the congregation that he was leaving Bethany in November and taking a position in California.  He has been our senior pastor for 11 years.  It was the last thing I expected, but I’m trusting that we can walk this path because Bethany is a community of people who love Jesus and love each other.  God has a plan, hope, and future for Dan and Anne, he also has one for the Bethany community.

You can listen to the full song one time here: http://bit.ly/ck52Tc

Hold Us Together

It don’t have a job,
It don’t pay your bills,
Won’t buy you a home
In Beverly Hills

Won’t fix your life
In five easy steps
Ain’t the law of the land
Or the government
But it’s all you need..

Love will hold us together
Make us a shelter
to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brothers keeper
So the whole world will know
That we’re not alone

It’s waiting for you
Knockin’ at your door!
Every moment of truth
When your heart hits the floor
When you’re on your knees then…

Love will hold us together
Make us a shelter
to weather the storm
And I’ll be my brothers keeper
So the whole world will know
That we’re not alone

This is the first, day of the rest of your life
This is the first, day of the rest of your life
‘Cause even in the dark you can still see the light
It’s gonna be alright, gonna be alright


Peace and Joy to you this week!

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