Tag Archives: meditation

Breath Focus

This post is the fourth in a series focusing on my path to Christian Mindfulness. The series starts here.

At the second class of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) we were introduced to a simple form of meditation.  We sat on a yoga pillow or chair in an upright position, keeping our body in a relaxed but vertical position.  The instructor gently directed us to close our eyes and to focus on our breathing. We kept a non-judgmental focus as we breathed in and out, simply observing how each breath felt and where we experienced it.  I noticed my attention focusing on my nostrils as each breath passed in and out of my body.  (Afterwards I observed that this kept my observation safely near my “head” since this is my place of security.)

With the instructor’s gentle guidance I was able to stay focused.  However, as her vocal instructions became fewer and fewer, my mind tended to drift away on wandering thoughts, “Am I doing this correctly?”  “I did this once before in CPE, and it was different.”  “Will this work when I go home?”

I was instructed that each time I noticed my mind wandering away to return my attention with gentle compassion to my breath.  This was a frequent occurrence since I found my mind wandering off on some tangent ever few breathes.  The instructor had warned us that no matter how many times our mind wanders, simple let go of the thought, idea or feeling  and bring our attention back to our breath.  I remembered the struggle I had had on the PCT, where my mind kept shifting to various thought streams. The solution was to consistently and gently return to the moment. Patience and perseverance were critical components.

Our homework each week was to practice this meditation every day, slowly expanding the amount of time we invested in meditation.  By the end of the 10 week class, I was able to meditate for 30 minutes, though I continue to have wandering thoughts that distract me. I continue to patiently bring my attention back to my breath (or my sacred word.)

I thought of my mediation practice as a new form of prayer.  Later that summer I would discover centering prayer that closely resembles this form of breath meditation.

Jon Kabat Zin, the principle founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class, offers a guided meditation exercise at this link 

Next post: The Key Ingredients for Meditation

 

 

 

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The Courage to Change

I knew something needed to change as I hiked one summer along the Pacific Crest Trail.  I had looked forward to the seven-day backpack for several months.    I had entertained frequent day dreams in which I visualized myself hiking across open alpine meadows, surrounded by the snow-laced  peaks of the Cascades and swimming in cold sky-blue lakes. But as my fantasy became reality I notice something troubling.   My mind had trouble staying on the trail.

IMG_20130816_105142_210Instead I would discover that my thoughts were ruminating about some worry or concern back home in Minnesota.    For a moment I might be able to enjoy a colorful alpine flower or a striking mountain peak, but all too quickly my mind jumped to some pestering concern at my church or my family.   My intention was to be on the PCT in Washington; my mind seemed to be at dozens of other locations.  And I wanted that to change.

bowl-with-spoonWhen I came back to Minnesota, I began to hear about “mindfulness” – the ability to be in the present moment.    My health plan offered a simple six-week exercise that focused on mindful eating.   I thought it would be easy to simply focus on my meal as I ate.   I discovered that it was incredibly hard for me.  My eyes continually looked for something to read; my ears sought the noise of the radio.  The challenge was to simply be present to my bowl of cereal, to see the color and texture of the granola, to taste each bite, and to give  thanks to God for the meal.

Emotional LifeI began to read more about mindfulness and my emotional impulsiveness.  A key book  was The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson.   I remember reading about how our brains have plasticity, that they can be rewired or remolded with certain practice.  The author discussed how people who have participated in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes have been able to deal with their chaotic, impulsive mental thought patterns.   After reading the book, I signed up for a MBSR class.

“Courage to change the things I can” is the second part of the Serenity prayer.  I once thought courage was reserved for the “big” things like racism or sexism.  I admire Dr. Martin Luther King’s courage to challenge the racial injustice of his time. We need such models of courage in every age.

Yet there is also the daily kind of courage to face our own flaws.  Through the MBSR class I learned the practice of daily meditation.  The practice has begun to calm my busy mind and to live in the present.   I am thankful that God gave me the courage to change the ways I look at the world and to be fully alive in each moment.

How do you stay living in the present moment?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to be always with us.

Healing at the Center

Centering Prayer is saving my mind while healing my soul.

IMG_20140812_190249_047-EFFECTS

St. Paul Monastery in Minnesota

I just returned from a five-day silent retreat at the St. Paul Monastery.  I practiced Lectio Devina (a form of prayerful reading and conversation).  I was familiar with the practice – we use a form of it during our staff meetings at Resurrection – yet the monastic practice strengthened my love of God and God’s Word.

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

However the most profound part of the week was the practice of Centering Prayer.  Each morning at 7 am we sat together for an hour simply breathing and praying our holy word.  We repeated it again at 10 and at 3.  Too many it sounds incredibly boring.   For me, it was drinking from the river of the water of life (Revelation 22:1).   It was simply resting or floating in God’s gracious love. Emptying the mind so God’s love could fill it.  Not just thinking about God’s love, but actually resting in it.

Oh, my mind fought the emptiness.  My thoughts and feelings would race from one idea to the next.  The river seemed to be covered with all kinds of flotsam and debris.  “What is happening at church?”  “Why did I say that to her?” “What will we have for lunch.” This would happen hundreds of time during the quiet.   Each time I caught the thought skipping across the surface, I let it go and return to my breath and my word.  To simply BE in God.

Henri Nouwen wrote in Here and Now, 1994

The real enemies of our life are the “oughts” and the “ifs.” They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and the now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful. When Jesus spoke about God, he always spoke about God as being where and when we are. “When you see me, you see God. When you hear me you hear God.” God is not someone who was or will be, but the One who is, and who is for me in the present moment. That’s why Jesus came to wipe away the burden of the past and the worries for the future. He wants us to discover God right where we are, here and now.

Centering prayer is a form of mindfulness practice, living in the current moment.

Fire Creek was ablaze with color.

At times I missed the beauty that surrounded me

I discovered my real need for this last summer when I was backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail.   I had looked forward to the trip for months and was in absolutely beautiful alpine country, yet my mind kept racing back to worries in Minnesota or to past actions that I regretted or wished I could change.   Here I was in the place I wanted to be, and my mind could not stay there!    I knew I needed help.

This past spring I took Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class which is a secular form of Buddhist meditation practices.  It was incredibly helpful.  The Centering Prayer has similarities to meditation, yet centers the practice in the love of God in Christ Jesus.   That has been healing.

Now next week, I head back out to Washington state to do another section of the PCT.  I will continue my practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Devina.  I trust that my mind will be able to stay on the trail with my body this year.

How does prayer touch your life?

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray.

Centering Down in Patience

Tuesday morning I visited a centering prayer group in a congregation near my home. I had discovered it on their church website and wanted to practice with them. Centering prayer is a Christian form of meditation in which the purpose is to silently wait in God’s presence. You can read more about centering prayer at http://www.centeringprayer.com.  After taking a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class I wanted to bring my meditation practice into a more explicit Christian context.

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

The seven women who gathered together were an eclectic group. They graciously welcomed me. The small chapel had a cross with candles and comfortable chairs for sitting quietly. The group is self-lead and we started with a brief devotional reading about being open to the love of Christ. They read it as a form of Lectio Devina, preparing one’s heart to listen. Then we sat in silent prayer together for about twenty minutes.  I appreciated a deep joy in sharing this time of centering down.

51KNK7QgraLRobert Roberts on his chapter on Patience in his book The Strengths of a Christian writes about how silent prayer is essential to developing the virtue of patience, the art dwelling gladly in the present moment.

Centering down is a matter of purifying your attention, collecting it into a focal point which is the God whose identity is known through Jesus Christ. As such, centering down is the practice of the presence of God and at the same time, the practice of patience defined as dwelling gladly in the present moment.  In centered prayer the individual is “absorbed,” though not in the sense of dissolved, in glad fellowship with God. (p. 73)

When I practice centering prayer I focus on my breathing, using a short prayer like “Jesus is Lord” or simply “Yah-weh” (the ancient Hebrew name for God – I am who I am – Exodus 3) with each breath. “Jesus” on the in breath; “is Lord” on the exhale. Recently I taught our congregation the simple prayer, “Papa is here,” based on the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus used the familiar word “abba” or “papa” in his address of God the Father. The exact words of prayer are not as important as consistent use of heart, mind and breath.

Like all who practice centering prayer, my mind wanders off on tangents and I need to gently bring it back to my breath and prayer. I don’t berate myself about the wandering but rather simple note it and come back to my prayer. I know that God knows my desire is to center on him and I believe He will bless my attempts. Like a good papa, God is patient with us.  Can we be patient with God?

How have you found ways to Center Down in patience?

Lord Jesus, let me be centered in you.

Holy Place of Peace

Hiking below Mt. Rainier

This morning I lead a class on prayer and one of the prayer exercises was a guided meditation, based on Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”  One method that has helped me enter into silent meditation is to take an imaginary trip to a favorite place that emotes peace.  Many people (especially during a Minnesota winter) might choose a tropical beach with warm breezes and rhythmic surf.  Or a beautiful garden that is under a brilliant blue sky and filled with fragrant blooms.  I choose the Cowlitz Ridge near Mt. Rainier.

I hiked the ridge once, nearly forty years ago.  The week before I left for my freshman year of college, my friend Marv and I decided on one last hike together.  We picked a three-day trip along the Wonderland trail which circles Mt. Rainier.  At first we climbed the steep switchbacks up out of the dark forested river canyon.  As we near the top of the ridge we stepped out of the dark forest into brilliant sunshine and a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier.  We camped in that meadow for two nights, soaking up the beauty and wonder of that ridge.

Now whenever I want a special time of prayer, I go on an imaginary journey to that same spot.  The only difference is that I take the imaginary trip with Jesus as my guide and friend.  For many reason, I find rest, comfort, strength, hope in visualizing him there with me.  As I meditate a deep abiding peace grows up around me.  I realize that I could imagine Jesus with me in other locations, but that spot has become a very holy spot.

I sometimes wonder if I will ever make the hike back to Cowlitz Ridge.  I might, but it is not essential to my spiritual life.  The essential part remains Jesus who is my guide and source of peace and joy wherever I am.

 Has guided meditation helped you in your spiritual journey?  Where do you find God’s peace?