Integrated Life: Awareness & Attention

    This week we continued our study of the Integrated Life with Sean focusing on awareness and attention.  Awareness and attention are cornerstones of an integrated life.  Only those things that we are aware of can be integrated.  And the things that we pay attention to (whether consciously or unconsciously) drive our lives.  Many of us walk through much of our lives unaware and "asleep" to what is really going on in our interior spiritual world.  We get so caught up in the "noise" (schedules, to do lists, jobs, relationships, etc.) that surrounds us or what  is spinning in our heads (what to do about those schedules, to do lists, relationships, etc) that we never "wake up" to the life in God that is ours.        
          We often instinctively react to the world and others around us based on messages we received and believed when we were young.  Oftentimes those messages were simply false ("you aren't good enough, you're ugly, you're not important, you need to be perfect, God only approves or loves you when you are good", etc.).  The problem is that often these messages repeatedly play in the background of our minds and we aren't even aware of them.  However, when a circumstance comes up, say you make a mistake at work, the messages start playing ("you're not good enough" or "you're stupid").   Then our attention fixates on that message and we are sucked in, unaware of our true nature; believing old false messages.
      God, however, invites us to live a new way.  He invites us to tune into an entirely different message.  It's the message that God starts off with in Genesis 1.  After God creates humankind, He proclaims that we are "very good!" (Gen. 1:31).   Somehow, unfortunately, that innate "goodness," along with God's unconditional love for us,  got distorted.  Personally, I believe much stems back to our believing the same lie that "Adam and Eve" believed (Gen 3).   It's the subtle, implied lie,  "if God loves you, why would He..."  In the story of Adam and Eve it was "if He loved you, why would He withhold the fruit from this tree from you?"   In our personal stories, we are tempted by,  "if He loved me why didn't God heal, give me the job, find me a spouse, take away my family, etc.?"  The list can be endless.  While some of what we face in this life can be brutal and hard, the truth is God's love and acceptance of us never wavers.
       Jesus' incarnation, life, death, and resurrection are more about God awakening us to the fact we are loved than some payment of our "sins" (John 17: 23, John 3:16- For God so loved...) Romans 8 tells us that absolutely nothing can separate us from God's love.  It is a given.  Period.  Now our reflexive feelings, awareness, and attention will attempt to pull us away from that truth- that is just how it is with us humans.  However, with God's help and practice we can begin to be aware of and refocus our attention (our thoughts) on that which is true and good (Phil. 4:8).  As we allow God to refocus our awareness and attention we find that our hearts and minds are at peace.  And we know at a gut level that we are loved by God.   Oftentimes we won't have more answers to our "whys."  But we will know that God stands in solidarity with us in our unique pains and joys.

Reflect this week:
"You know, all mystics -Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion -- are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare." Anthony DeMello

Babs May-Clark

Integrated Life: Honesty and Humility

 This week we continued our study of the Integrated Life with Sean focusing on honesty and humility.  Sean described humility as "being who we truly are in God."  When we're living in humility we live out of our true essence/self and not the masks we wear.  Many of the masks (false self) we put on were developed in childhood as methods to navigate our environment.  Even in the healthiest environments, we create masks.  Masks are ways of responding to our circumstances that aren't really how we, in our essence, want to respond but become habitual because of the response that we get.  For example, the boy who withdraws (when he would rather engage) because it is safer in his family to do so.   Or the girl who smiles, acts cute, smart, loving, etc. so the adults around her pay attention when she would really rather just be her ordinary self or play in the mud.   We might be apt to say that our false self or masks are bad, but they aren't.  They're necessary.  We wouldn't have survived childhood without them.  They helped us navigate our world and daily interactions.  Our mask/false-self becomes problematic, however, when we don't realize that we are wearing it, or living out a life that really isn't ours.  
       In a host of scriptures Jesus talks about "losing our life, so that we can find it" (Matthew 10:39, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, John 12:25).   God invites us through these scriptures to let go of/ lose our masks and false self so that we can find our true self- the person behind the masks.   For the majority of us, this will be a life-long process.   Whether we are 20, 50 or 80 years old, this unfolding of our true self can occur.  Regardless of our age, however, this process requires us to be honest about who we are and why we function in the world the way we do.  Honesty can be scary and leave us feeling vulnerable.  But it is only by being aware of and owning the truth that we will be set us free (John 8:32).  Twelve Step wisdom teaches,"we're only as sick as our secrets."   Hiding behind our masks keeps us sick.  Steps toward honesty set us free-  free to live without masks, free to be our true self.  Our true-self,  is "right sized" aka- humble.  When we live out our true self we know that we are in God and God is in us.  As such, we no longer need to get our needs met by wearing masks or acting out of our false self.   We trust that God will meet our needs as we live in union with God and others.  We are known, loved,  and accepted.  This frees us to live in the present without the need of pretense- to be ordinary, to play in the mud, to engage or not.   

Reflect this week:
"Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious folks are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular Christian (or human) they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives. 
They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint, (some other person). For many absurd reasons, they are convinced that they are obliged to become somebody else. " Thomas Merton

By Babs May-Clark

Integrated Life: Centering Prayer

This week we continued our look at the integrated life and the tool of meditation to help us in the journey of integration.  Too often in the Western Church "meditation" has been considered bad or evil.  The act of meditation can be defined as: to "think deeply or focus one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes."  The biblical story is full of invitations for us to renew, and focus our mind and soul on God (Rom 12.2, Phil 4:8, Eph 4:23, Col 3:2, etc.).  Following is an explanation and invitation to the meditative practice of Centering Prayer, which when practiced over time, bears much spiritual fruit- it is adapted from Thomas Keating's work on Centering Prayer.

Guidelines for Centering Prayer:
I. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to god’s presence and action within.
II. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to god’s presence and action within.
III. When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
IV. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
 
Some Explanation of the Guidelines
I. “Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.”
A. The sacred word expresses our intention to be in God’s presence and to yield to the divine action and love.
B. The sacred word should be chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable to us. 1. Examples: Lord, Jesus, Father, Mother, Mary; or in other languages: Kyrie, Jesu, Jeshua, Abba, Mater, Maria. 2. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Silence, Stillness, Calm, Faith, Trust, Yes; or in other languages: Amor, Shalom, Amen.
C. Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for that would be to start thinking again.
D. A simple inward gaze upon God may be more suitable for some persons than the sacred word. In this case, one consents to God’s presence and action by turning inwardly to God as if gazing upon God.

II. “Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s loving presence and action within." 
A. Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight.
B. If we fall asleep, we continue the prayer for a few minutes upon awakening if we can spare the time.
C. We close our eyes to let go of what is going on around and within us.
F. We introduce the sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.

III. “When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so–gently to the sacred word.”
A. “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, reflections, and commentaries.
B. Thoughts are a normal part of Centering Prayer.
C. By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word,” a minimum effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
D. During the course of our prayer, the sacred word may become vague or even disappear.

Some Practical Points
1. The only thing you can do "wrong" in Centering Prayer is to not show up.
2. Begin with the amount of time that feels comfortable for you- if you can work up to 20 minutes twice per day. The end of the prayer period can be indicated by a timer.
3. The principal effects of Centering Prayer are experienced in daily life, not in the period of Centering Prayer itself.
4. Physical Symptoms:
a. We may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in various parts of the body or a generalized restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body.  We may also notice heaviness or lightness in the extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness. In either case, we pay no attention, or we allow the mind to rest briefly in the sensation, and then return to the sacred word.
d. During this prayer we avoid analyzing our experience, harboring expectations or aiming at some specific goal such as: a. Repeating the sacred word continuously. b. Having no thoughts. c. Making the mind a blank. d. Feeling peaceful or consoled. e. Achieving a spiritual experience.

Consider this week:
Am I willing to practice centering prayer at least one or more times this week? If so, do it!  If not, why?- be gentle with yourself as you explore your why.

By Babs May-Clark

Integrated Life: Sabbath

 This past Sunday we explored the topic of Sabbath Rest and how it relates to an integrated life.   True Sabbath rest isn't just the cessation of activity or work it is creating moments and rhythms of openness and receptivity to the love and presence of God.  It seems Jesus was more interested in the heart of the Sabbath rather than a rigid keeping of the Sabbath Law which required that no work be done.  Jesus, more than once healed on the Sabbath and encouraged his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matt 12:10; Mrk 3:2,Jhn 9:14-16, Lk 6:2).  I wonder if in these acts He was modeling for us that He, and in turn God, were more interested in love, mercy, and grace than meeting a certain "moral standard" or keeping a strict set of rules and regulations.  
       In Hebrews 4 the author invites us into the Sabbath rest of God.  This Sabbath is not for some far off time after we die.  It is for this very day- this present moment.  Unfortunately, many of us get so caught up in our agendas, to-do lists, managing our relationships, rule following, and our own thinking that we miss out on the Rest that we are invited into.  We falsely believe that when we accomplish our lists, have our relationships right, act morally good and control our thoughts we will find rest.  While those all may be good, they will not give us Sabbath rest- only God can give us the rest our soul longs for.  
      In order to accept God's invitation to experience Sabbath Rest, we must first believe that God is loving and gracious to each of us.  The beliefs of a judgemental, harsh, demanding, sacrifice requiring God make it hard, if not impossible, to enter into the kind of Sabbath Rest Jesus exemplified.  Jesus knew the Father to be loving, merciful, and gracious so it was natural to heal on the Sabbath or have his hungry disciples pick food on a Sabbath. For Jesus, relationships, mercy, and grace trumped the law.
      Jesus says to us,  “Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest!  Put on my yoke and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29-30). If only we really believed that at a gut level!  We all have varying degrees of unlearning to do about who God is and how deeply He loves each of us.  But no matter how deep the mistrust of God is, if we are open- even a little bit- He will meet us. And with each small step in the direction of Love our capacity for Sabbath Rest increases, which in turn leads us back to deeper Love and trust.  

Reflect this week: 
How open am I?  
What lies am I believing about the character of God?

By Babs May-Clark