Meditation on mindfulness

         Every now and then I get stuck in a loop. I find myself doing something that I don’t want to do, and that I’ve been doing it far longer than I should.  It doesn’t make any sense.  I’m an adult. I’m in charge of my life, right? It sure doesn’t feel like it to me sometimes, and I suspect you might know what I’m talking about.

         There are habits that I fall into that don’t do me any good anymore, if they really ever did to start with. Doing the same thing over and over feels safer than trying something new, even if the old thing is a dead end. This is how I’ll end up eating a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting.  This is how I’ll spend two hours scrolling through Facebook to see if anything is happening.  This is how I smoked clove cigarettes and pot for ten years.

         Mindlessness. It’s all mindlessness.  It’s being on auto pilot.  It is worse than death because at least with death I don’t have control over my actions.  I’d like to think when I’m alive, I do.  I feel so embarrassed when I catch myself doing something I know isn’t good for me.  I wonder how I started.

         The bad part is that when I get in these loops I usually recognize it. I’m aware of how badly I don’t want to be doing this thing but I’m still doing it anyway.  Ten minutes later and I’m still doing it.  Ten minutes more and I’m still there.

         I’ve developed a way to help me break out of this negative feedback loop that helps me, so I offer it to you. Think of it this way – Would Jesus be spending his time like this?  What if he were here with me? Would I be doing what I am doing? It works for food too – would Jesus be eating this?  Would I serve it to him?  As for the state of my house, would I be embarrassed to have him over? Is it welcoming, or a mess?  And what would we do? Would we sit around watching TV or checking Facebook? So, if I wouldn’t treat Jesus like that, why am I treating myself like that?   I need to show myself the love that Jesus showed to people. I need to remember that I am important.

         I sometimes get my husband to let me do something nice for him by talking him into the idea that it benefits me. I’m trying the same trick on myself.  Instead of thinking about my own needs, I’m imagining that Jesus is here.  Would I be doing this? Would I be treating my body this way? Would I be spending my time this way? Would I be talking to myself this way?

         I feel like Jesus wouldn’t waste his time but then I remember that he spent a lot of time alone, talking with God. So there was certainly some down time, but I can’t compare that to surfing the internet mindlessly or reading boring books or ignoring things that need to be done around the house.

What I’m trying to do is use Jesus as a reminder to be mindful.  I’m not giving Jesus control.  That isn’t what it is at all. I’m also not trying to guilt trip myself into doing or not doing anything. I’m trying to come up with a trick that helps me get unstuck from a groove, a rut. So far, when I remember to do it, it works.


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Meatless? Are you mad?

         I was at a local burrito place and ordered “Seitan chorizo con papas” (spicy wheat gluten with potatoes) as my protein option. The preparer checked with me to make sure I knew it was vegetarian.  I told him that was why I ordered it.  He then shared with me that a lot of people freak out when they learn this. They go with the pulled pork instead.

         I’ve noticed a lot of people are like this. They are terrified of being without meat for even one meal. It is as if there is a fear of being without meat in our culture, like we will fade away from lack of nutrition. Looking at the obesity rates of Americans, there is no worry about fading away anytime soon.

         I once invited a coworker to an Indian buffet. He asked what was available and I started to describe what we were likely to find. He was quite interested in the chicken tikka masala but bored by the spinach and potato dishes.  He was a little dismayed by the absence of any beef dish.   When I told him that the best dishes were the vegetarian ones he visibly got defensive. “What? Not eat meat? Are you kidding?” I pointed out that there are people who go without meat for their entire lives and they do just fine.  One meal without meat wouldn’t kill him.  He was so skeptical that he decided not to go.

         I remember a conversation with the manager at an Indian buffet many years ago. He said that people in India and in America are both dying because of food.  Indians are dying from not enough food, while Americans are dying from too much of it.  We are eating ourselves into our graves.  We also suffer from preventable diseases for many years beforehand.

         Our bodies are temporal houses for our immortal souls. So why do we fill them up with trash?  Why do we pollute them with preservatives?  Why do we treat our bodies as disposable items – and then wonder when they fail to work correctly?

I haven’t made the full switch to being vegetarian because I like the taste and texture of meat.  I also don’t want to limit myself to only two or three options on the menu when I eat out.  I don’t want to be a bother to friends when they are kind enough to invite me over to their homes for dinner either.  So I eat meat, just not as much of it.  And I feel better because of it.

         There is a knee-jerk reaction against being vegetarian. It is seen as counter-cultural.  It is seen as rebellious.  It is seen as other, as weird. But the norm is to eat all you want, spend all you want, and die soon and poor. I don’t want to be normal.  I want to live a happy, healthy life.  But I also want the convenience of eating out.  It is a sign of our culture that it is almost impossible to get vegetables if you eat from fast-food places in America.  And when you do find vegetables they are either very salty, deep fried, or cooked with pork.

Perhaps it is time to “occupy” the kitchen.  There is nothing more countercultural than cooking your own food.  There is nothing more rebellious than taking charge of your health.


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Mary holding Jesus

We often see Mary holding Jesus.  She is either holding him as an infant or holding him as he came off the cross. It had to be hard to be Mary.

I cannot imagine her anguish holding Jesus after his crucifixion.  So much injustice.  So unfair.  His life did not warrant death.  In the image of the Pieta, all looks lost.  His ministry seems over.  All that work, all those followers, and now nothing.  Jesus is dead, his disciples have scattered.   Nobody wants to be associated with him because that would mean death for them too.

This is us.  This is us, in the middle of the story, in the middle of the night.  This is us, not knowing what is going to happen next. When all looks lost, when everything is dark, when nothing makes sense – we aren’t alone.

We know the end of that story.  Jesus rise from the dead.  Jesus rose and continues to live.  He lives on, alive, continuing to heal and teach, through us, his Body, his Church.  And because he rose, we know that he will work through this story too.

When we can’t see what is next, call on Jesus.  When we don’t know where to go, call on Jesus.  When we don’t know what to do, call on Jesus.

Perhaps that time when all seems lost is a time to wait.  There were three days in the tomb.  There were forty days in the desert.  It can’t all be go go go. Waiting can be holy time. There is a lot of time between seed and flower.  There is a lot of time between grape and wine.  Jesus is there in those times too.

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Marry out of strength, not weakness

         When you have half a person married to another half a person they don’t make a whole, they make a half. When you have a whole person married to another whole person they make something amazingly strong.

         People shouldn’t try to marry to find their other half. They should marry to get even stronger. They shouldn’t marry in order to have someone “complete” them. If you have to have someone else to make you whole then you weren’t whole to start off with.

         If you want to get married so she will cook and clean for you, you don’t need a wife – you need a maid.   If you want to get married so he will protect you and keep you safe, you don’t need a husband – you need a guard dog.  If you want to get married so someone will cheer you up, you don’t need a spouse – you need a therapist.

         If you marry out of need and loss and lack, then you will grow into that and get even needier and even emptier. It will be like getting crutches for your broken leg.  You’ll go years with those crutches, and your leg never gets used and gets weaker and weaker.  Then when the crutches go away, you can’t stand at all.  If you are only half a person, then what will you do when your spouse dies?

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Maps and schedules

         Sometimes the scariest trip is the trip you make alone. Alone, in a room, no props, no safety net.  Stripped of all your toys, your familiar things.  Everything taken away and all that is left is you and God. That’s all there ever was anyway.

         Everything we do, we buy, we read, we are, is an escape from God. We are constantly filling our heads with noise so we can’t hear the still small voice that is God.

         I got a little freaked out on a retreat. I was afraid of the silence.  When is the next part of the retreat?  Where is it? What if I need something?  Where’s my map?  Where’s my schedule?

         I want to catalogue the experience. I want to lay out words like breadcrumbs so I can find my way back.  But what am I finding my way back to?  Am I finding my way back to where I was before the retreat? Or am I leaving a trail so I can find my way back to God? Breadcrumb trails work both ways. That which you seek is seeking you, after all.

What is “silence” after all?  Does it mean that I have to be quiet, or that I have to be in a quiet place?  Does it count if I hear someone else talking, but I don’t?  Does writing count as “noise”?  Does going online count? Is it cheating if I write using an iPad?

         Words are Jesus’ way in for me. I like words. I’ve used them for many years. And he is the Word made flesh after all. But sometimes words are hiding places.

Sometimes we fill up our prayer time with our own words and forget to leave space to hear the reply.  Sometimes the “noise” is in our heads.  Sometimes the silence is deafening, and we have to fill it with anything we can find.  Sometimes that something is a book, or exercise, or music, or a lecture or a movie.  Sometimes it seems that all we do is kill time, instead of live it.  Sometimes we get so stuck in the map and the schedule we forget to be in the moment.

I left a ritual-heavy church, where moment to moment you knew what was going to happen because there was a script and a book.  Everything was planned out.  I didn’t realize that too was “noise”.  It is only now that I realized that I never heard the still small voice in that service because there wasn’t space marked out for it.

God always answers.  But are we always listening?


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Arrive on the mat

Try this on for size for a yoga mantra – “Arrive on the mat.”  It is the same as “be here now.”  It isn’t an intention or prayer.  It is a reminder.  It is like one that some teachers use – “return to the breath.”

It is so easy to get off center, off focus, off kilter, just off in general.  It is so easy to get distracted and discombobulated. In those times we need to remember to return to our breathing because it will bring us back to ourselves.

We plan on one thing, and then another thing comes up. I hate it when I’m trying to do tree pose and the teacher keeps talking.  I can have the most awesome “drishti” (focus point for my eyes) but the more she keeps chattering about how to keep my balance, the less balance I have.  So maybe “drishti” isn’t about an external thing to look at.  Maybe it isn’t about finding a spot on the floor or the wall to stare at.  Maybe it is about finding that still, small, quiet place inside me that is calm and centered.  Maybe it is about being at the eye of the storm, rather than in the storm.

The eye of the storm is right in the middle of everything, yet it is calm.  That sounds good.  Well, not being in the storm at all sounds better, but I’m not seeing a way to avoid that.  Work, bills, family, chores, retirement plans, homework – there is a lot going on.  We can’t just chuck it all and run away.  Sometimes we do run away.  We go on a vacation, but then when we come back everything has piled up just a little more.

Some people leave everything and become monks or nuns or hermits or hippies.  Some people leave literally, some just leave mentally.  There are many ways of leaving.  You can be there but just not care because you’ve chemically altered yourself.  I don’t want that.  I did that for years.  My problems didn’t go away, they just got fuzzier, and I just didn’t care about them as much.  But nothing got better.

That is why I like the mantra of “arrive on the mat”.  The mat is like an altar.  It is a sacred space where I prepare myself.  I shape myself into a calm, centered person.  I shape myself into a vessel for the Spirit.  I remind myself there that I must take care of this gift of my body, this house of my soul.

I want to be here, be present, be open to the opportunities that life offers.  I don’t want to miss a thing.  I want to observe but not obsess.  I want to be there in the good and bad, in the rich and poor, in the better and worse, in living and in dying.  Because to arrive on the mat is to be there, as you are, right then.  Shaggy hair, ragged toenail polish, unwashed face, or clean and scrubbed and fed.  Either way.  There.  In the moment.  Let us begin.


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Made in the image

         There is something honest about babies and old people. They don’t look like any one gender. They just look like themselves. Perhaps this is what is meant about being made in the image of God.

         Perhaps these beings that are before or beyond the need to be a specific gender, before or beyond sex have it figured out. Perhaps being intersexed or unisexed or unsexed is the answer to a lot of our problems. When we are past the need to be female or male and we get down to the business of being human maybe then is when we start getting to the good stuff, the God stuff.

We don’t divide people as to hair color or height, so why divide them by gender?  Anybody can be a chef or an engineer or a doctor or a parent.  Whatever you have below the belt doesn’t affect what you have between your ears.  Competency isn’t related to gender. Whoever you want to be – do it.  Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t because you are the “wrong” gender.

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