The Art of Mindfulness

Have you ever had the experience wherein you were driving home from a busy day of work/ school/ or other draining activity and you realize that you arrived at home, but don’t remember getting there? It’s as if the body went into auto pilot mode. This most frequently happens for me when I’m conducting my morning routine. Did I actually brush my teeth? I can’t remember. What did I wear yesterday? No idea.

I realize that this is likely a coping mechanism to allow the mind to rest, but I also have experienced this “auto pilot” to be detrimental to my everyday life. A problem arises when I start going on autopilot and actually miss living.

Last summer was an eye-opening experience for me of realizing that I was dealing with an incredible amount of stress and was anxious and generally unhealthy as a result. After some time reflecting on that experience, I realize that there were several things in my life which did not resonate with who I am, what makes me come alive, and how I live my ethics/ core values. During the summer, I knew I needed to take some serious reflection time. I need to examine all the “yes'” that I had committed to without much thought. I had just finished a biology degree and was headed into seminary, so I figured it was as good a time as any to examine myself.

So I enrolled in a mindfulness group. At first, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and wondered what I had just gotten myself into. It turned out to be an incredibly enlightening experience. I realized that a great deal of my time was spent worrying about unrealistic worries; I learned to name these thoughts as “frequent flyer” thoughts. Part of the harm of these frequent flyer thoughts is that they took away from me actually living in the moment and enjoying it for everything that it was. By “living in the moment,” I mean actually tasting the food that I ate, feeling the joy of a hug, committing myself to a conversation without a totally unrelated running narrative going through my head, listening to the crickets singing, stopping to bathe in a sunset, giving attention to so many beautiful and good things that I have in my life.

When I first started trying to be mindful last summer, I literally challenged myself to pay attention to how it feels for a toothbrush to go over my teeth, how a hot shower feels, what summer squash & onions smell like cooking, to say a prayer and really mean it, and how a field of lightning bugs takes me back to childhood. Just like training muscles to lift weights, it took practice and continual attention. But it paid off for me.

For starters, I realized that I did not enjoy Captain Crunch at all.

And I really, really don’t fancy sugar in my coffee. No, thanks.

This is important.

Secondly, I began realizing that my energy shifted from being anxious to grateful. And I was able to gain much more perspective on things. I analyzed where I spent my time and was my time given to life-giving or energy-draining opportunities.

I think it also helped that I surrounded myself with folks who supported me in this mission and who also did this work themselves.

I still experience the “frequent flyer” thoughts and autopilot moments, but when I do, I am able to name them as such and give them way less time and weight. I feel more and I don’t let autopilot guide my relationships. This may seem small, but for me, it has been life-changing.

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Have you experienced “auto pilot” mode? If so, what have you found helpful?

 

 

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Singing For Our Lives…

“If you are mesmerized by televised stupidity, and don’t get to hear or read stories about your world, you can be fooled into thinking that the world isn’t miraculous– and it is.” –Anne Lamott in Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith

Earlier this winter, Pete Seeger died. Pete was a folk music legend and a protester. The kind of man who sang stories of relentless optimism and agitation….of workers uniting, of Central American Freedom movement struggles, of nonviolent resistance and international disarmament, of caring for the environment, of his love for America and dream for what we could be as a country if we realized our interconnectedness.

Pete’s songs were songs of protest. Songs which refused to get into bed with the status quo. Songs which prophesied of a better way. Pete was prolific songwriter; he believed that folk music was the music of the people and it was meant to be shared and sung together. For him, singing was the way to stand in the moment and say: “here we are, standing here, fully human, fully alive, and demanding better, singing for our lives.”

For me, the space of optimism that Pete held in the face of injustice and oppression was what drew me to him. Much like Lamott’s quote, Pete saw the miracle in life because he was fully engaged in it. I’m afraid sometimes that all of our gadgets fool us into thinking that we are living, but really, we are experiencing a screen at best, and televised stupidity at worst.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to wake up. The old kick-in-the-pants routine. Wake up. Take control. Sing.

The busyness of life can lead to fatigue and a rote routine of daily decompressing by turning on the TV, scrolling through facebook, or watching the latest must-see You Tube video. We can end up consuming so much more than we create and this doesn’t work for the human spirit. It doesn’t ask us to be our best selves. We lose passion and purpose. And sometimes, our voices.

Have we lost the miracle of a sunset? Have we lost the miracle of the complex biochemical processes that must occur for an apple to be digested in our bodies? Have we lost the miracle of living in a community of people who know each others names, stories, and dreams? Have we lost the miracle of helping each other or working for a cause that is greater than ourselves? Have we lost the miracle of eating a fresh tomato from a garden that our hands toiled in? Have we lost the miracle of confessing our joys and concerns to each other? Have we lost the miracle of crying together? Have we lost the miracle of aching for our significant other? Have we lost the miracle of a drenching rain seeping into a scorched earth?

Have we become so disconnected with the earth and each other that we cannot feel anymore?

Being a human is a miracle. But if we forget that, we can one of the most destructive forces ever.

It’s easy to do with all of the notifications to keep up with. Sometimes, it’s easier not to feel, or examine our belief systems thoroughly, or wonder who are best selves really are. It’s easier to consume music than to create it. It’s easier to consume ideas rather than create them. It’s easier to ignore our dissimilar neighbor than to love her. It’s easier to live carelessly than to live consciously. It’s easier to keep tearing down trees as if we own this earth, than it is to plant them and work to help ecosystems thrive. It’s easier to ungraciously read biblical texts than it is to actually research them. It’s easier to criticize than to innovate. Its easier to turn on the TV instead of engaging in vulnerable conversation.

It’s easier, but it’s not better….because we are fooled into thinking that life isn’t miraculous.

And, it is.