Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Belly Breaths





Place one hand in the middle of your abdomen. Place the other at your heart. Take an easy seat that allows you to be comfortable and supported without striving.  You can sit up with a lengthened spine or lie back on the floor. 

Fill your belly with air and feel your hands gently rise and as you exhale feel them soften down. You should feel all sides of your container expand with air, especially focusing on filling the belly and flaring the rib cage open with air under your palms

You can use any breathing technique that you like or just let your natural breath be observed.

If distracting thoughts come into play, simply use one of the metaphors offered to non-judgmentally set that thought aside and bring your focus back to your breath.  

If a concern comes to mind, gently set it aside for later, and come back to your breath. Do this for 1-2 minutes.


Essential Mindfulness Practices



Monday, May 28, 2018

How to Deal with Distracting Thoughts



A.K.A. “Begin Again” Metaphors

Consider which metaphor below you are drawn to.  Imagine, for example, that as you are trying to pray, your grocery list comes to mind.  Simply place that thought on the cloud, wave, train, leaf passing by and bring your attention back to your breath or your word phrase you use to collect your attention back on the Lord.  This is where resolutely rely on the wisdom of St. Benedict’s encouragement: “Begin again.”   

·       Clouds floating, or birds flying, across the sky.   
·       Waves arising from the sea, then falling back in. You can watch the waves from the shore, without being swept away.  
·       Leaves and sticks floating down a stream. You don’t have to dive in. You can watch from a bridge.  
·       A passing parade. You can watch the floats pass by. You don’t have to climb on board.  
·       Trains coming and going while you stand watching from the platform.  
·       A waterfall. You’re standing behind it, not under it.  
·       Guests entering a hotel. You can be like the doorman: you greet the guests but you don’t follow them to their rooms.  
·       Cars passing by while you wait at an intersection.  
·       Suitcases dropping onto a conveyor belt at the airport. You can watch them pass by, without having to pick them up.  
·       People passing by you in the street. You can nod your head at them, but you don’t have to stop and have a conversation.  
·       Wild horses running across the plains. You can admire them but no need to chase them.  
·       Bubbles rising in a champagne bottle. They rise to the surface and then disappear.  
·       Fish swimming in a tank. Watch them come and go.  
·       Children running across a playground. You can stay still and watch, while they run wherever they want to.  
·       Actors on a stage. You can watch the play; you don’t need to get on stage and perform.  
·       ‘Pop-ups’ on the internet.  
·       Junk e-mail. You can’t stop it from coming in – but you don’t have to read it!
·       Text messages on your mobile phone.  
·       Luggage passing by on a conveyor belt.  

Mindfulness and Coping: What's the differnece?



Let’s do this from the bottom up.  Bottom line: Mindfulness should take you into the present moment, not away from it. Mindfulness can be used to ground yourself in the middle of a wave of anxiety or a douse of depression  or a slice of your personal chaos– it can dig your tent stakes deep into the middle of the dry, uncomfortable desert floor. 




Through mindfulness practices, you slow your breath, then your body, then your thoughts, then your feelings, then your behaviors. Following this chain, you will find yourself engaging with life in the way you would CHOSE to, in the way that serves you best and brings you more in line with your authentic self, connected to your “Fount of Living Water” right in the middle of the desert.  Otherwise we are victims of autopilot self-preservation instincts…that path you have been down enough times to know it doesn’t lead where you want to be.


The problem is, we don’t like being in the desert. We don’t like liminal space.  We don’t like the grey.  For a long, long time I tried everything I knew to part with this desert space and enter into the “promise land”.

That is where coping mechanisms come in.  They are for a different purpose entirely.  They distract us from the present moment, from the reality of our feelings. Listen to music, go for a walk, call a friend and get your mind off of it.  These are all totally legal, valid, and completely necessary. 

But they are not mindfulness and if they are all you have in your pocket to cope with, you will avoid the discomfort  but never find that “square shaped peg” that you need for your “square shaped hole” to transform, change, or complete the process of the difficult emotion you are presented with. They also tend to distract us from the Beloved.





It has taken me a while to learn this lesson: the desert...is a good place to be. 

It is actually satisfying to root deep into the packed desert floor and it allows us to store up wells that can last for years without rain. 


It is here that our sightline is unobstructed and our only consolation is the One that we wouldn’t by nature reach for…but the only One that can actually drench and quench our soul, no matter if we are walking through rain forest or desert.

There is an invitation from the Eternal in the book of Hosea that delivers me from hopelessness. 

If we can wait in the desert, tolerate it with skill and intention, stay there a long time, if we can find a way to be still and silent on the inside while the temperature of our circumstances burns our skin, this is the business that goes down in the desert:

Hosea 2:14-16 The Voice (VOICE)

14     But once she has nothing, I’ll be able to get through to her.
        I’ll entice her and lead her out into the wilderness where we can be alone,
        and I’ll speak tenderly to her heart and try to win her back.

15     And then I’ll give her back her vineyards;

        I’ll turn the valley of Achor, that “Valley of Trouble,”[a]
        into a gateway of hope.   In the wilderness of exile she’ll learn to respond to Me
        the way she did when she was young, when I brought her out of Egypt.
16 And I swear when that day comes, she’ll call Me “my husband” and never address Me again as “my master” as she did those other gods.

Mindfulness practices as well as contemplative prayer practices and living with strong boundaries fortified by integrity are some of the only ways I found to live the truth of this. 

Learning to hold myself in a place I don’t want to be long enough for the toxicity to drain out completely until I realize I am unharmed, more expansive, and abiding in a deeper layer of authenticity and connection to Jesus for having been stretched thin.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Legs Up the Wall Pose


Legs Up the Wall Pose
  1.  Begin by sitting on the floor with a wall next to your side. Your legs should be stretched out straight in front of you. Exhale and gently lie down on your back, engage your core and hip muscles to bring your legs up into the air with the bottoms of your feet pointing to the ceiling.
  2. Pivot your body so the backs of your legs are now touching the wall. Bring your sitting bones flush to the ground and as close to the wall as possible so your torso and legs create a 90-degree angle.
  3. Relax your neck and place your hands on your belly or to your sides with palms facing up. Focus on your breathing and with each breath release any stress or anxiety, starting from your feet and down through your body.
  4. Stay in the Legs Up the Wall Pose for five to 20 minutes. To come out of the pose, gently press the bottoms of your feet into the wall and roll to one side, making sure you support your legs until they reach the ground. Stay on the ground for a few seconds until sitting up so as to avoid lightheadedness.


Modifications & Variations



Performing the Legs Up the Wall Pose can strain your lower back and hips. You can place a pillow or a rolled-up yoga mat or towel under your lower back to relieve excess strain. 

You can also place a pillow or mat for support under your head. 

A strap can be used just around your thighs and above the knees to help hold legs in place and take pressure off the low back and pelvis.

You can also bend your knees up onto a chair which will soften the low back and ease the strain in the back of your legs.


If you are a beginner, focus on using your breath to help “ground” your body as well as relieve excess stress. On each inhale, imagine your breath is moving through your torso and pressing your thighs closer to the wall. On each exhale, imagine your thighs connected to the wall as your let your torso release any tension into the floor.




Precautions

Be careful when lifting your legs to the upright position if you have lower back or hip pain. One way to relieve excess strain on the lower back is to use a rolled-up yoga mat, towel or pillow.

Like any inversion, people with glaucoma should avoid this pose. In some yoga practices, doing this inversion while menstruating is not advised.

Do not do this if you have a hernia of any kind. Also, if you have high or low blood pressure, be careful when performing this pose for extended periods of time or avoid it altogether. Lifting your legs higher than your heart can increase blood pressure and lead to heart and other health problems.

The same warning is also suggested after completion of the pose when you transition from lying to the standing position. Standing suddenly can cause blood pressure fluctuations which can lead to serious injury.

  



Saturday, March 24, 2018

Mindfulness...What we pay attention changes everything




Mandi on Mindfulness Part 2:
Paying Attention and Mindfulness – A Pep-Talk

Have you tried any mindfulness or contemplative prayer practices yet?  If so I would love for you to comment in the blog stream below.  I am hoping the following will be a pep-talk to further your thirst for this practice in your life. I would love to know both your positive experience, and your frustrating experiences.

We know the desert fathers practiced silence and solitude in the un-institutionalized desert communities of pure devotion and removed from religion.  Religion becomes toxic when it becomes hollow “form without power”, or structure without Spirit. Religion was growing less intimate and authentic as Rome integrated and infiltrated the Christian faith into government. But, what in the world did they do out there that would cultivate such deep soul-stirring testimony, writings, and tradition?

You have to be a special sort of person to read their works directly and glean gems that are available to pull down into the here-and-now. Personally, I find it far more accessible to read books by OTHER people who read those original books (full disclosure). 

And now, in addition, we have gifts from the psychological side of our existence which offer of lots of empirically, evidenced-based techniques to pick from as we decide what fits and what serves us in our unique, personalized expression of this mission to “pay attention” to what we CHOOSE in greater and greater measure.

What we pay attention to changes everything. When we get out of the locked cell of this business of the mind and look AT our thoughts rather than FROM our thoughts, deciding which ones hold truth and are worthy of our investment, and which ones bring us distraction and loss. - MJP

Thompson (2010) lists a great summary of the Biblical stories peppered through and consistently laced into our faith legacy:  Adam. Eve. Cain. Noah. Abraham. Sarah. Moses. Gideon. Deborah. Samuel. David. Mary. Joseph. Wise astronomers. Jesus. Paul.” The argument couldn’t be any more solid from a Biblical perspective…mindfulness is imperative to a soul that is alive and connected” (2010). My favorite are the details found in the story of Moses and the burning bush:

Exodus 3 The Voice (VOICE)
3 Now one day when Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, he guided the flock far away from its usual pastures to the other side of the desert and came to a place known as Horeb, where the mountain of God stood. 2 There, the Special Messenger of the Eternal appeared to Moses in a fiery blaze from within the bush. Moses looked again at the bush as it blazed; but to his amazement, the bush did not burn up in flames.

Moses (to himself): 3 Why is this bush not burning up? I need to move a little closer to get a better look at this amazing sight.
4 When the Eternal One saw Moses approach the burning bush to observe it more closely, He called out to him from within the bush.

Eternal One: Moses! Moses!

Moses: I’m right here.

Eternal One: 5 Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals and stand barefoot on the ground in My presence, for this ground is holy ground. 6 I am the True God, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

May we "Practice paying attention and awaken to that which is extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. And as we live our lives in response to the One who is calling to us out the burning bush in our own lives, we discover that we are standing on Holy Ground more often than we think!" (Barton 2007)

All of us, no matter the level of thriving or suffering, have to undertake the endeavor to collect ourselves – mostly our minds – on a moment by moment basis to apply ourselves to the thing which we pursue with our presence in the particular moment at hand. - MJP

Even before that, we need to pay attention to if the thing we are pursuing in the moment at hand is the thing we WANT to be pursuing, even in micro-measured behaviors and the direction our day takes.
Our awareness is constantly shifting from this to that. It is my belief that the more we govern that shift, the more we move into the sweet land of thriving.


Mindfulness Offering Installment #2:
Legs Up the Wall Pose 
Use this pose in connection to the Thirds Breaths 

Barton, R. H. (2007) Sacred Rythms. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL.  
Thompson, C. (2010).  Anatomy of the Soul. Tyndall Press. Carol Stream, IL


Friday, March 23, 2018

Mandi on Mindfulness


Usually “buzz word” trends make me roll my eyes.  But I drank the Kool Aid before it was even a thing…and fell forever in love and define myself by what we now hear called ‘mindfulness’.  It’s because it is what I stumbled upon 20 some years ago when I started doing yoga to save my body and realized it totally cleared my attention to swipe clear a sight-line between the Lord and I. But the truth is…this is one of the most ancient of ancient practices that people have used for thousands of years to hone their focus on what serves them best. We see this in church fathers and mothers, many from the contemplative stream like Thomas Merton, St. Teresa of Availa, and more recently Henry Nouwen and others in his tribe…but the tradition goes back even further:



“As the Christian church moved from bottom to top, protected and pampered by the Roman Empire, people like Anthony of the Desert, John Cassian, Evagrius Ponticus, and the early monks went off to the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria to keep their freedom and to keep growing in the Spirit. We are still carrying the DNA of our great, great grandparents of faith, and knowing that can give us deep identity and meaning.”, writes Fr. Richard Rohr. 

Now, thankfully we do not have to physically go to the dessert, but we do have to cultivate a desert of our own, as Henry Nouwen writes in The Way of the Heart:

“We are responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our secular milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own.  We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord. P. 30.
Our compulsive, wordy, and mind-oriented world has a firm grip on us, and we need a very strong and persistent discipline not to be squeezed to death by it. By their solitude, silence, and unceasing prayer the Desert Fathers show us the way.” P. 94
In my experience, the GREATEST block to sensing the grounded, rooted center that mindfulness (A.K.A practicing the presence of God) offers is a lack of discipline to make space for it and the common enemy of familiarity – form without power.  Undoubtedly, “fashioning a desert” will come against opposition in your schedule, in your fatigue, your responsibilities, and the nature of your mind itself. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love…”

This last week of lent, approaching the crescendo of Easter, might you consider clearing a few minutes a day to dial in with intentional and substantial attention to some of the practices that draw you close to God? You can't loose! Only gain. 

Mindfulness has been defined in so many similar variations of these words:  purposely paying attention and focusing our awareness on what is present within (body, heart, mind) and outside of yourself (your environment).  The psychological definition also always includes a criterion that our awareness be free of criticism or judgment. It is just noticing with as much commitment as possible to abstain mental threads we would lead us astray from God’s presence.




Nouwen, Henry. 1981. The Way of the Heart. Seabury Press. New York, New York.
Thomposn, Curt. 2010. Anatomy of the Soul. Tyndale Press. Carrollton, TX.