training the monkey… the mind that is

(Author’s note: I really wanted to title this post “Spanking the Monkey,” but I didn’t want some perverts to open this post thinking it was going to be up their alley.)

(Pervert’s note: That’s what she said.)

phonto

Buddha often spoke of the need to train the monkey mind through meditation and mindfulness. His intention was that our life would be less about narration and commentary and more about the presence and experience itself.

To me, the idea of minimizing narration and commentary and analysis and story is quite daunting–and perhaps even backwards. After all, I am an English teacher: I live and love stories. To explore this conundrum (and generally solve all of the universe’s mysteries), I was fortunate enough to garner a fellowship to participate in the Mindfulness in Education Retreat at Vallecitos. (Thank you Hemera!)

While there, meditating for about a quarter of every day (insert shocked emoji face here), I gained a few treasured training tools to get that monkey mind to sit and stay:

  1. It’s a muscle…or a puppy. I like to do things well. I don’t like to struggle. There’s a small chance I might be addicted to perfection and the illusion of what it does for my soul. So naturally upon arrival and discovering we were going to meditate for six. hours. every. day. I just knew I had to nail it. I didn’t. I had unrealistic expectations of instant-6-pack-upon-entering-the-gym-after-keg-magically-disappears, or miracle-puppy-who-falls-out-of-mom-rolling-over-on-command. Cuz that happens. Like anything else, being present in the moment with mental chatter under control takes time. Takes discipline. Takes training. Takes constant attention and reattention and rereattention and rerereattention (or attention to the 3rd?).
  2. Tone matters. But therein lies the rub: it’s not just about the training; it’s about how I train. I naturally fell into this kind of cruel, self-abusive narrative progression when my mind would wander: “Be here now.” “Just get it together.” “Ugh again, come back.” “Why can’t you just be here?!” “Damn it Patrice!” At the height of my frustration, I considered myself a failure who could never get it right… you know, after meditating for oh…3 minutes. Mindfulness is a constant redirecting of attention, but that does not warrant a scream or a flog or a deep sigh of frustration. I found the mantra of “there is room for that, too” to bring me back again and again with kindness and compassion and grace.
  3. Interruptions versus experience. Before this retreat, meditation meant to me all the right conditions. I want people quiet. I deserve to be comfortable. I need to be in the mood. I seek out perfection, both inside and outside of me. Then, once the stars have aligned, I can meditate. What I learned at this retreat is that noise is a part of the meditation, not an interruption. Discomfort a part, not an interruption. Chaos a part, not an interruption. Instead of seeking the perfect external context, I need to be internally present in whatever is occurring–however annoying.
  4. The power of narrative. But what is annoying, exactly? One night while sitting in meditation with my nose running; eyes itching; throat tickling; sneeze building; tissues missing, I thought: “this is miserable.” But I checked myself before I wrecked myself. Is it? What is misery? These are the physical sensations, and they just…are. It is my narrative and commentary that creates the bias of misery. Even deeper, why does it do that? I realized I’m still realizing that mental narrative is the last stronghold of control chimera of control. I think by naming I have power. I think by describing I have hold. But…I don’t.
  5. Escape mechanisms. Which leads me to the biggest aha of this retreat: when I feel like I am failing, I want to escape. This should come as no surprise after my year failing as an instructional coach, but alas…this lesson was only more pronounced when I could not escape “failed” meditation. Instead it went on and on and on. (I mean at home, I’d be blissfully ignorant on Facebook or delightfully numb playing Angry Birds or completely tuned off with the TV on. Oh the wonderfully destructive avoidance technology allots.) But I did learn even in those moments when meditation lingered and I could not physically leave, there are a lot of ways to mentally escape: sleepiness, haziness, mental chatter, restlessness, distraction, planning, discomfort, judging (about me), gossip (about others). Unfortunately, where there is a will, there is a way (to get out). I learned that when I feel like escaping, I need to examine the urge: what I am afraid of? what exactly is failure? what am I avoiding? Sitting with the urges (does anyone else have to go tot the bathroom now?), rather than running from them, is the challenge but also the reward of mindfulness.
  6. Size matters. Before this retreat, I was narrow-minded. Who am I kidding, I still am. But I’ve come to a thought-place that is more spacious, more wide, more welcoming, more soft, more generous…more. There is room for that, too. Mindful meditation can–and should–include the distraction, the clanging pots, the escape tendencies, the judgment, the narrative, the cramp in my foot, the constant need for approval, the desire to be seen, the pervasive sense that I am not good enough, the unanswered questions, the buzzing fly. There is room for that, too.
  7. Pattern trumps pieces. At most retreats, I make sweeping plans to come home and be brand spanking new. But what I carried away this time is that a little each day makes more difference than grand gestures occasionally. And so I am committing to 12 minutes of meditation a day. I can do that. I want to do that. I will do that. And if it doesn’t happen, well, there is room for that, too.

 

on meditation: 2 poems

I recently spent 5 nights at the magical Vallecitos Mountain Ranch participating in an intensive silent meditation retreat for teachers. Wow! More on this to come…

But for now I wanted to share two poems inspired by my time there.

“Suspension”

the mind is a child swinging

at birth of motion

legs pump furiously to take flight

lifted by the wind of joy skyward

after the initial peak

legs extend and point to another world

then retract back beneath

falling into gravity’s arms

up and

down, back and

forth, lengthen and

folding, inhale and

exhale, ebb and

flow, rise and

fall, sunlight and

shadow, swelling and

subsiding, expansion and

contraction

a never-ending dance in the air,

within every ark there exists an “and”

a whisper of a moment at the zenith

a magical suspension of being

where the seat floats off the leather bottom

golden braids freeze in sky

time stops to catch its breath

it is the absence of movement

a paradox of weightlessness

breathtakingly beautiful

heartbeatingly alive

achingly brief

overwhelmingly present

Meditation lives in that moment.

*****

“The Fly: Two Sits”

~1~

inhale presence

exhale presence

crap, I hear a fly buzzing

how gross, but stay in the moment

inhale presence

exhale presence

I hope he doesn’t land on me

who knows where he’s been

last night there was one all over the food

whose idea was it to eat outside anyway?

talk about unsanitary

on our last camping trip,

I couldn’t even eat the corn because there were so many bugs floating around

shoot, I forgot to get corn at the store

I’ll have to go there on the way home

let’s see, what else do I need?

sour cream, eggs, bread, cilantro, and one more thing, what is it,

oh yeah, a fly swatter

shoot I’m supposed to be focused

~2~

inhale presence

exhale presence

crap, I hear a fly buzzing

there is room for that,

too

inhale presence

exhale presence

there is room for that,

too

inhale presence

exhale presence

present in the pain

Sometimes the stars align so that the same message is being whispered over and over into your ear, at just the right time. A divine echo.

Saturday morning’s yoga class was one of those whispers. Led by a pregnant woman whose roundness in her belly was only rivaled by the curve of her carved biceps, she started class with the intention of being present. She shared that being in her second pregnancy lends itself to the tendency to want the carrying and labor part to be over to get to the “best part”–life with the child. But she explored the irony, that even then, with the joy of a life before her, she can want to rush through, to the next part, always forward, always beyond, always later.

So much rushing leads to the missing of life.

“Be here now,” she said.

But what I heard was, while bowed down in humble downward dog with tears spilling prayers in my eyes:

Be present in the pain.

Following that sacred message, I met with a best friend who also constantly gifts my life with divine whispers. Yoga in friendship, if you will.

And this card was her serendipitous gift:

peace

It’s almost as if she was in cahoots with my yoga instructor.  Divine whispers.

It is no secret that this year has been hard for me. And as the calendar turned to 2016, all that is anchoring my mind is “I can’t wait until next year.” The chance to start over. A proverbial January 1st.  The next part, always forward, always beyond, always later.

Be here now.

Be present in the pain.

It is easy to daydream and fast forward to a different time, where of course I’d be at peace and happy and fulfilled with this and that in place.

It is easy to daydream and fast forward to a different time, where of course I’d be at peace and happy and fulfilled with this and that in place.

That doesn’t exist. All that is is here and now. And true peace is thankfulness without terms, contentment without conditions.

Be here now.

Be present in the pain.

 

 

the space of hospitality

***This post is part of the June synchroblog that invited bloggers to write about hospitality.***

When I think of hospitality, I think of my mother-in-law: or Mom as I call her and know her. Upon arriving to her house, it is clear she has taken the time to lovingly designate space for us to be, comfortably and naturally. Furniture is moved so that our bed is accessible. Sheets and pillows are purchased and placed so that our skin is greeted warmly. Cups and beverages, with the appropriate spoon, are laid out on the counter so that our morning is seamless. Natural soaps and toothbrushes are set out on the bathroom sink so that our grooming routines are not disrupted by forgetfulness. But these, though important, are the mere physical arrangements of her hospitality; invisible yet more powerful are the heart arrangement of hospitality. Entering her home is like entering a sanctuary, where a space has been prepared for us from the inside out.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Tammy. I remember when my Mom died, sitting in my sister’s backyard draped with trees, finding the time and creating the space to finally call her and grieve in her metaphorical arms. So much of that conversation, between my open mouth sobs and broken heartbeat explosions and implosions, was silence. Beautiful, sacred, anointed, compassionate silence. And in Tammy’s silence on the other end there was so much missing: quaint solutions, awkward utterances, quick fixes, flimsy promises, weak answers, insecure accusations–all the things that so often are projected onto those grieving by those who are clueless and uncomfortable with their own powerlessness over a friend’s sadness. In the space of her silence was hospitality, a heart arrangement of care for the other despite impotence for change.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Libbi. Walking into her classroom is like walking into a church. Student work and statements line the walls. The soft murmur of a tea kettle always whispers a welcome. Sunshine pours in from the windows, and outward from her her. The space is calm, inviting peace and pause in a frantic day. In the air hangs fresh memories of learning students, conferencing moments, counseling words, and inspiring messages. Her care for the students is beyond a lesson plan; her care is a heart arrangement for their every need: anointing a space for mind, body, heart, soul.

When I think of hospitality, I think of yoga. Entering a studio that is lit from above and within, practicing next to a community of people who are mindful of their breath, swaying to soft music, bending differently under the confident adjustment of the teacher, swelling from the joy of my body’s able movement, the release of Savasana: all of these blessings arise because someone takes the time to create a space for yogis to unite inhales and exhales. It begins with a physical arrangement of postures and cues, but it is the heart arrangement of the teacher that sanctifies a sacred space.

When I think of hospitality, I think of the times Dave and I practice Sabbath. With no phones, no tv, no computers, and no external distractions, it is just the two of us, sharing a space together of play, of laughter, of light…of love. When I talk to him, I know he is there, fully present with me. When I listen to him, I know I am there, fully present with him. And in that sacred space born of our heart arrangement, God is present as well.

Ultimately–sadly–hospitality is a dying art in our culture because our space is cluttered–daily, perpetually, annoyingly, overwhelmingly cluttered. It does not matter if cookies are baking in the oven and sweetening the air if the hostess is scrambling around the kitchen distracted. It does not matter if a room is clean and prepared if the host is self-consumed with his own problems. It does not matter if guests are welcomed into a home if all the children are attached to their video games. It does not matter if two people set apart time to hang out if they are both buried in their phones.

Hospitality is not about the minutia, but about mindfulness.

Hospitality is not about the home, but about the arrangement of the heart.

Hospitality is not about the serving, but about anointing the space.

Hospitality is not about being a Martha, but about being a Mary.

Hospitality is an age-old blessing ceremony: weaving hidden anointing-oil-threads of love and light through every interaction, connection, place, and space.

Here are other voices on hospitality:

A Sacred Rebel – Hospitality

Carol Kuniholme – Violent Unwelcome. Holy Embrace.

Glen Hager – Aunt Berthie

Leah Sophia – welcoming one another

Mary – The Space of Hospitality

Jeremy Myers – Why I Let a “Murderer” Live in My House

Loveday Anyim – Is Christian Hospitality a Dead Way of Life?

Tony Ijeh – Is Hospitality Still a Vital Part of Christianity Today?

Clara Ogwuazor Mbamalu – Have we replaced Hospitality with Hostility?

Liz Dyer – Prayer For The Week – Let us be God’s hospitality in the world

K.W. Leslie – Christian Hospitality

when it all falls apart: on senioritis and mindfulness

I write often on this blog space about teaching…and a lot of it is a perky portrait of balloons and bubbles.

Not today. Today those balloons and bubbles popped.

After yet another constipated conversation of reluctant, low-level thinking from my AP Lit seniors, I drew the discussion to an end, dismantled the circle, and asked students to go to their desks and reflect. As a driven teacher, I refuse to waste class time. As a caring teacher, I refuse to not look behind and beyond the surface actions into why. Why are you so quiet? Why has the quality of your thinking decreased? What’s on your mind?

I am worried about the medical tests I am taking. Will I be ok? What is wrong with me? Is the medicine working? My health worries me.

Every year around this time, a sinewy disease crawls into the classroom, weaving discord among the tables and chairs and minds: senioritis. Seniors, who are so consumed with the after, lose sight of the now. And always, we their teachers, gather together and suffer through anxiety, carrying our excessive care for them to a mental place where we can lay down our burdens–their burdens–and swap them for solutions. We know life after high school will be better for them, even if they currently can’t find assurance in that.

Miss, I’m tired. I’m up all night taking care of my younger siblings while my parents work. And this is after sports. And this is after school. I want to do my homework…but when?

I read through their reflections. Heavy. Tired. Buried. Insecure. Brokenhearted. Have I let my coaching responsibilities distract me from good teaching? Have I been too busy performing as the sage on the stage to authentically assess how my students are declining, a slow atrophy? Do I care more about how my classroom appears to the politician’s ever-critical-eye than the students in it? In playing the game, have I lost the game?

There’s a lot going on at home. We are in our third house in as many months. I don’t think we’ll be here long either. It’s hard to pay the bills even though we’re all working.

As I read their reflections, I hear a recurrent echo of not being present due to future worries, other worries, worries not here and now, in this room of learning and loving through the lens of literature. College. Scholarships. Other classes. Work. Home. Relationships. Poverty. Health. Violence. Trauma. Abuse. The list degrades and blurs into elements beyond their control, undeserved and overwhelming.

I am mentally unstable.

Suddenly, senioritis–perhaps something I can influence–seems but a shadow of the oppression that has suffocated their entire lives. And what can I, little old me, this powerless teacher, do to bring down their Goliaths? What stone can I throw? What slingshot do I own? And how do I see the target when I am looking into the hot glare of the sun? And I am afraid, realizing that so many of them self-destruct under the frightful weight of leaving high school, a place that has been consistent in a life of chaos.

My parents do not want me to go to college. I am meant to stay home and support them, to be another mother or another breadwinner.

But they must leave, they must graduate; they are worthy.

And so I research. I print paper. I gather stones: articles upon articles about mindfulness, meditation, being present. Tomorrow, we will have an academic circle about nothing related to the AP Lit exam, but everything related to the test of life. Tomorrow, we will sit in a circle and be human in a data-driven world that insists they are little more than numbers. Tomorrow, I will give them keys to doors they are afraid to open. I cannot take the stress of their senior year away. I cannot do the work for them. I cannot drag insightful thoughts out of them. I cannot feed their families, heal their bodies, redeem their pasts, pay for their housing, or cure their hidden heartbreaks. But this I can do. I can educate them. I can empower them with tools.

I can love them. And I do. And I will.

present to the I AM

To be mindful is to be present. To be present is to be fully engaged in the only life we have been gifted. In this present moment, we meet God, who names Himself “I AM”–not I was or I will be, but rather I AM, in this moment alone, here, now, the only moment available.

A lot of the Bible speaks of adhering to God based on his past credentials. His street-cred-resume: “great is His faithfulness” and “remember when He” and “the God of your ancestors” is a reoccurring trope throughout the Old Testament. The implication here is not to be here, now, with God, but to rely on a manifested-God of other people and other places and other times.

The other implication–just as dangerous–is the reliance on God based on His future promises. These bubble to the surface repeatedly in the New Testament: “you will be saved” and “will supply all your needs” and “you will know as you have been known.” In these, I rely more on what I’ll get from God, than who we are together, here, now.

But the more I’ve been focusing on being mindful in the present moment, the more I’ve come to see how being with God, here, now, is the litmus test for our relationship and my faith in Him. Can I worship in this moment, regardless of what came before or what will follow? Can I be grateful here, now, instead of relying on past or future revelations? Can I lean into both beauty and brutality, unsure of what influences shape or outcomes follow the here, the now? Can I know God only as He reveals Himself to me, in this present moment, here, now, rather than through others’ tainted histories or contextual comforts? Can I let God, here, now, just be I AM, instead of I was, or I will be?

Here, now, I say yes. And for each here, each now, an ineffable myriad more yeses.

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the soul’s greatest threat: ADD

This little disease epidemic is popping up everywhere. In disgruntled hearts. In ungrateful mouths. In slanderous conversations. In the broken public education system. Beneath the broken hearts of Christians.  On job (dis)satisfaction surveys. At restaurants. In my soul.

ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

I first learned about ADD–though not known by that name yet, well, because I didn’t invent it yet :)–when getting my Master’s in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Education. For students in our system who are emerging bilinguals, it is common to focus on what they lack (a foundation in English, parents who speak English, comfort navigating the American schooling principles, background knowledge, etc) rather than what they offer (flexible cognition, tenacity, diversity, varied background knowledge, a 21st century skill, etc). This deficit lens immediately and perpetually harms their potential–both for heart and mind learning in the classroom.

But ADD reaches into the adult hallways as well. Lingering in the air of my school lately is a heavy tension surrounding feedback. Teachers–me included–feel like there shouldn’t always have to be a next step. Can we just celebrate the good that’s going on in our classrooms? Just once? Of course, this stifling air is pouring in from beyond the walls of our building–a critical society of politicians and businessmen who in their ADD see fit to criticize our profession and demean our judgment. (Can I get a next step for them!?)

I saw and felt ADD in my Mom too. No matter what my Dad did, it wasn’t enough for her. No one at work could live up to her standards. We, her kids, strained to breath in the shadow of her martyrdom-to-negativity, encapsulated by her rally cry: “When it rains, it pours.”

Until she got breast cancer. The disease stopped her in her tracks, rewrote her map, and rerouted her direction. Did she become perfect? No, but her rally cry changed to “Well, I can’t complain; I’ve been blessed.” This will forever be one of the traits I admire most in my Mom: what should have proved to her that “when it rains, it pours” became a transition into a heart and life of thanksgiving. Even when she got cancer again, and then again, she declared her life as blessed.

Her prescription for ADD? Gratitude.

And this is without her earmarking The Secret or subscribing to “The Law of Attraction” or reading Ernest Holmes, who writes in This Thing Called You:

The barriers between you and your greater good are not barriers in themselves. They are things of thoughts. It is because of this that all things are possible to faith. Jesus summed up the whole proposition when he said, “It is done unto you as you believe.” In interpreting this saying, however, you must pause after the word as. Think about its meaning and you will discover that he was saying that life not only responds to your belief, it responds after the manner of your believing, as you believe. It is like a mirror reflecting the image of your belief.

As you believe.

Without using such succinct language, I’ve long pondered this with those closest to me. We’ve witnessed people in our lives with ADD: they never see good; they’re always complaining; their smiles are never deep; every good story has a “but” or an “if;” they seek commiseration from those around them; they are martyrs; they complain without changing; their conversations are tainted with passive-aggressiveness; they tear others down so they can feel better about their lives; they always play the victim but then conclude, deep-sighing “but, I’m okay.”

And as they believe, they just can’t catch a break, the sh** just keeps hitting the fan, spinning wildly above their heads on high, splintering the crap into tiny germs of toxic thinking that attracts more toxicity.

As they believe.

As you believe.

As I believe. This could be me. On my worst days, it is me, suffering from and for ADD. But I refuse to stay in this minefield-mindplace.

And just like my Mom learned and lived, I take my ADD medicine: gratitude.

My prescription as of late involves the delicious and divine words of of Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:

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At the deepest diagnostic level of ADD is the distinction made by Tim O’Brien between the happening-truth and the story-truth. The events in my life are the truth, the happening-truth, the facts. But how I view them, how I count them and name them and interpret them, that’s the story-truth. Regardless of the events, I can tell the story however I want. I have that power, that choice, that authorship. Do I tell my story slanted with sorrow, burdened by ADD’s symptoms? Or do I tell my story, sanctified by sincere gratitude?

My Mom died last year. That is the happening-truth. But how do I tell that story? My Mom died too suddenly and how dare God do that?! or My Mom got what she wished, to end her life with her dignity in tact, dependent on no one, so thank you God! I choose the latter. Thank you. Again and again I choose the latter. Thank you. I refuse to succumb to the powerful hold of ADD.

My story-truths will be of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of blessing, as I believe.

Disclaimer: It would be negligent of me to conclude without a warning about the side-effects of ADD’s treatment plan of thanksgiving: DDD– denial of deficit disorder. There is a subtle but significant difference between positivity and faithfulness, between denial and gratitude. Positivity and denial leave a person consumed with “having to be happy” regardless of the happening-truth. They painfully push on (of course never on the surface, where there is always a smile) without the deep reflection and story-telling necessary to treat ADD. On the other hand, faithful and grateful people understand the severity of their happening-truths, while still instead scripting a story-truth of thanksgiving.

let it go: it’s not as easy as the pop ballad sings

9103b1151dd8dc751f2ae73f0f408a93For those of you who have had even the shortest tidbit serving in restaurants, you know–like I do–that no dining out experience can go uncritiqued. The same is true now that I’m a certified yoga teacher. Yesterday Dave and I went to a level 1 class…and let’s just say I gave up about halfway through listening and following the instructor and finished my own practice in Shavasana. Everything about the instructor was off: the setting of intention was sloppy; she taught from the back corner of the room with a mousy voice; her assists were not grounded; her cues were weak at best, absent at worst; she ignored an older gentleman in the class who clearly needed modifications and cues; her pace was off; she made poor choices for postures; she failed to cue modifications consistently.

But of course, I practice yoga in non-judgment. Ugh…

I tried so hard to release judgment, to just be present with my breath on my own mat…but I just couldn’t. let. it. go. The minute I found peace in my breath, her voice would chime in, and then my mind would criticize and compare. A vicious cycle, I finally gave up and laid in Shavasana, palms pressed into the Earth, focusing with my inhales ” my thumbs are grounded, my pointers are grounded…”

Naturally, this is true off of my mat as well. I think about when I am in meetings, or PD, or conversations that are not going to my standards and expectations. I find myself daydreaming, diverting, distracting, disengaging, because I just can’t let it go. The question, the challenge, arises: how do I stay present when I do not deem a task worthy of my presence?

Ouch. That’s a raw reality.

For me, the answer to this question lies in a critical distinction: what I can control versus what I cannot control.

  • 235bef9b0da84b1fbd92f5eded8f17c5I can control how I sequence, cue, and sanctify a yoga class. I can learn from what I don’t like and do differently the next time I teach. But at the moment I am in class with another teacher, the only moment I have in all reality, I cannot control her teaching. I can only control how I respond.
  • I can control meetings, PD’s, or conversations in which I have influence. I can structure those with honor and intention; I can make them meaningful to all parties involved. But at the moment I am in a meeting or PD that I do not have control over, the only moment I have in all reality, I cannot control “them” or “it.” But I can control how I respond.

So what is my response? How do I stay present? Breath. As Thich Nhat Hanh says,

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.

To be present and mindful in the current moment, the only moment I have in all reality, I need to come back to the root and wings of my breath. In the inhales, I find intention. In the exhales, I find surrender. 

present. thankful.

bc90113e29ef351de769933bf5fbbb79Early in the lonely darkness, I wake this morning with a heavy heart; how can the absence of Something, Someone weigh so much? As in yoga, I will not fight this pain’s strain; I will lean into it. I will stay present in the sorrow, to the grief. And even in this, I will give thanks. Yes because it’s a holiday, but also because it’s a holy way.

  1. Though I don’t understand it fully nor embrace it completely, grace is more powerful than condemnation, compassion truer than judgment. The Divine, at the deepest core and at the wildest edges, is Love. For this, I thank God.
  2.  I live in a cozy house in the mountains, on a wildlife corridor–a glory this suburban flat-lander only imagined in daydreams. This house, once another’s outdated debt, has been made our beautiful home by my husband’s raw talent. For this, I thank God.
  3. I live and laugh with my best friend, a man of generosity, grace, strength, humility, adventure, athleticism, authenticity, wildness, industrialism, honor, spirituality, intelligence…love. For this, I thank God.
  4. I had a special relationship with my Dad. From playgrounds to cardinals to Frank Sinatra and Yanni to walks to movies, our spirits were woven together. Yesterday in the car, just like him, I whistled along and sang off-tune to a Christmas song. In his absence, he was with me in that car, in that moment. For this, I thank God.
  5. I had a special connection with my Mom. Our stories were written from the same words. When those stories are told now, in her absence, it is not only me–it is my husband. As we threw out bacon grease this week, we looked at each other knowingly, remembering and resurrecting Mom’s conniption fit at such a waste. His relationship with my Mom was a rare and precious gift, now a majestic river bird hovering above and between our love. For this, I thank God.
  6. Though my parents are gone, the utterance of “Mom” and “Dad” still floats up from my heart to glide across my lips. Dave’s parents hold a special place in my life–far greater than the empty label of in-laws. For this, I thank God.
  7. I go to work every day alongside people who fight for social justice. I teach students who teach me. I gift the power of words through stories that matter. My job is a ministry of empowerment for which I am equipped. For this, I thank God.
  8. My sister gets me. We are cut from the same cloth. Reunited by grief, our friendship’s foundation has solidified. For this, I thank God.
  9. I have friends of the soul variety. Tammy, who has been beside me and inside my spirit since I was 14. Laina, who when I am with, listening to her stories, makes me feel like I’m with my Mom. Libbi, who gifts me with the call to presence. These are but one small glint of a massive web of glittering connections spun around me. For this, I thank God.
  10. My body is strong and capable. My legs can take me to the hidden heights of the Rocky Mountains; my spine can bend and bow into peaceful poses of meditation; my lungs can fuel me through 13.1 miserably momentous miles. For this, I thank God.

Like beads on a Mala, I count my blessings. There are far more than this list; there are far more than I recognize with my eyes or name with my voice. For this, for the unseen and the unnamed, I thank God.

mind your sacrifices: looking at Leviticus through the lens of mindfulness

Mindfulness is all a buzz lately. Mindfulness can improve your health, improve decision making-skills, help cope with trauma, prevent succumbing to cravings, and even capitalize the O in your orgasm (dare I say mindfulness puts the O in your OM; ha! …couldn’t resist). Mindfulness is on the football field, in the medicine cabinets of vets, on my blog, and within classrooms. Mindfulness is so pervasive I found all these articles in a matter of minutes.

But mindfulness in Leviticus? Come on, no way. I mean Buddha wasn’t even around then (wink, wink). But this weekend in my camping chair, as I trudged through the decrees of cleanliness and uncleanliness, inclusion and exclusion, and lions, tigers, and bears, oh my, the list of sacrificial animals, I found myself as usual asking: Why? What would be God’s intention in making so many harsh rules? Especially, when in the end, Jesus fulfilled them all (amen to that mystery!) and criticized the people for offering empty sacrifices, “honoring God with their lips, but not with their hearts” (paraphrase of Matthew 15 mine). I know some of the responses to this question: hygiene, health, separation from the “others,” etc. But always those attempted-answers do not assuage the shock in my heart as I read a book like Leviticus.

But, as I wrestled with the idea that all this was for His people and not for Himself, my mind rested on a few key Scriptures:

You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean (10: 10)…

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy (11:44).

To consecrate means to set apart, to distinguish as other, to separate and elevate. And is that not mindfulness? When I pause and mindfully eat, my food becomes sacred and not just calories. When I pause and set my intention on my mat, it becomes a sanctuary. When in a conversation and I mindfully stop, then respond, I am elevating my relationship with that person. When I settle into stillness on my swing, I invite God into that space. To consecrate, one must be mindful.

I’d venture this is part of what God intended. That when the leper was healed and came back to the camp, instead of just diving right back in, he would have to find the appropriate sacrifices, then offer them. This intentional, time-tasking, budget-demanding act was a transition back into community, a chance to be mindful about what has occurred in his/her life. While the anointing oil ran down the head, then neck, then shoulders of the priests, it was a chance to be mindful about their holy positions, as well as for the people watching. All these decrees forced His people to slow down, be present, and engage with what mattered most…an awareness of the Divine.

This, of course, does not answer all my questions about Leviticus and the law. But, I’m quite okay with that…

the questions are more invitations to be mindful.

recite-1022--892155214-19pr2hb

Hosea 6:6

 

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