We are a young Humanity. We are growing, developing, and evolving now.
Do teenagers ever go through awkward, even infuriating times? Sure. Growth can be messy and painful, with lots of missteps and misadventures. However, God can use everything from our past to help us forward into a better level of integration and growth. Ultimately, the biggest disasters, failures, and hurts of our life will mean very little. At some point in the future, we’ll look back upon them and laugh. Even the worst times. What is more, these difficult times can even be highly useful for our growth. The Divine can operate in various ways, and turn the most painful things from our past into capacities for tremendous spiritual gifts. And joy.
We have much growth ahead of us, even in the next life.
While we’re walking this walk in this life, it sure is good to have some ability to make sense of things, and to pray deeply. To be centered. To be able to achieve calmness if we need to.
(Additionally, there is the entire quest to deepen our prayer life and become closer friends with God, and to understand the ways of God better.)
This is especially true today, as there are some chaotic situations in the world. Additionally, as humanity has registered so many new things—not exactly neat uniform growth—but advances and progressions, some of which are technological, there is a lot for us to integrate.
With techonology, and modern tugs on our attention, we are often very distracted.
This can have a positive side: It is preparing our minds to receive, and engage in, more kinds of activity.
But we must integrate this new growth, so that we return to health.
We have to learn how to integrate things.
When we have integrated these things, and rediscovered our center, then we will be more potent human beings. We are meant to be strong, intelligent, caring, loving, expressive, and thinking. And spiritual. And happy. The word “happy” is a very important term in all Sacred Scriptures. It is deeply connected to the proper being of the Human Person.
Ok. So how do we get there? How do we become centered in this life?
There are ways.
Actually, there is a wide spectrum of techniques and tools that we are free to choose from.
Some background: For 6 years I was a monk, and learned some things about spirituality. (In all my adult life I’ve been interested in the soul and the spirit, and in God.) I’ve had some really good teachers. I’ll spare you the details of my own development, but lately I’ve been thinking about returning to some forms of prayer and meditation that I have not done in a while. Maybe changing things up a bit. And as some people are distracted today, and as many people have been asking me for advice about this, and as I’m far behind on responding to emails in this regard (for which, my apologies), I thought maybe a few brief reflections might be helpful to people.
These comments will be in two categories:
1) Changing Frames (Also Known as the ‘Big Picture’)
It’s good to step out of our box and survey our attitude(s). It’s good to have dexterity of perspective.
For example, let’s say that something is bothering us.
This is a mind-obstacle that can happen to us fairly often in life, especially if we have not yet become practitioners of centeredness.
So then. To avoid being trapped in this small trap, we can say to ourselves, “Our universe has trillions of galaxies, and that’s only what we know about. I’m going to befriend them and know them all some ‘day’. Also, this universe started 13.7 billion years ago. And some ‘day’ in the future, I’m going to know all time. And I’m getting to be better friends with God, who is bigger than all that anyway. So I’m not going to let a little problem affect my mood. Because I’ve just recalled one snapshot of the bigger picture.”
A person whose mind is as strong as a diamond can often shift their perspectives quicker than quicksilver (mercury).
And they don’t lose their center in the process.
Notice how children get stuck in “ruts of mood.” Once they land in a particular attitude, they remain stuck there until an external event of larger gravitas than their present mood totally switches the entire landscape for them. This external event could be the promise of an ice cream cone, or a fascinating image or object that they have never seen before, or when a child of the same age suddenly is brought by their parent into the same aisle of the supermarket where the child and her/his parent is. When this happens, and their mood changes, the child does not even realize that their mood has just been instantly transformed.
Adults who are centered (and even mature children) can do this themselves, without the external stimulation. (Or, to say it better, their bedrock state is stable while they freely move between particular expressions, maybe slightly tasting those emotions.)
Yes, it is good to be able to fluidly change our perspective, or, to look at a bigger picture. After a while, things don’t even bother us. (Or at least not as easily as before.)
2) Let nothing scandalize you
Up until a couple centuries ago, in any religion, if you had the ‘wrong’ religious views, you could find yourself in hot water.
St. John of the Cross lived in Spain as a Carmelite priest in the 1500’s. He was good friends with St. Teresa of Avila. Both are Huge mystics and Doctors of the Church. They knew God. (St. Teresa used to get angry at God when God levitated her during Mass in the chapel at her monastery when she was the Abbess there. So she had metal rails put in on either side of her chair, so she could hold herself down to earth when he levitated her. They are still there today.)
Well, earlier in his life, John held views that his superiors in the order didn’t agree with. So they imprisoned him in a latrine sewer. For some months.
He survived the experience and become a giant of the contemplative life. One of his sayings was, “Let nothing scandalize you.”
Think about it.
If someone does something that strikes you as being radically wrong; Or if another’s views are something so incomprehensible that you think that they are from a different species: Their behaviors or attitudes are radically different.
In such cases, it is easy, and tempting, to put up the walls of separation. (These attitudes can spread into prejudices. For example, don trump has perhaps never had a meaningful conversation with a person of Mexican origin. So he wants to wall off an entire nation, a huge realm of the Earth with its population of Human Beings.)
It is easy to say, “Oh, trump himself is all bad. He is Radically Different, Radically Other, and so I’ll have absolutely nothing to do with him or society.”
Of course, the vast majority of us think that trump’s views are bonkers crazy. His views of people from other nations are views that are racist and wrong.
But the fact that the person named “don trump” has those views means that people can get mangled up enough to eventually land in these views.
But if we think about it….
One way of looking at our lives is that they are made by our choices. And if a person has made some unfortunate choices, that often lands them in deteriorating situations, in which the person makes yet worse choices. And so the downward spiral continues. Some drug addicts have grown up in poverty.
The person, or the person’s actions, reach a point where they seem to us to be monstrous. We might think of that person as a monster.
And don trump was born with a silver spoon in his ear. Obviously, his lack of parental love and his being a brat have had negative effects on his life.
If a person does the unconscionable, if a person does the ridiculous, well, that just means that a person can arrive at that situation. A person can simply get to that place. That’s all. We are still somewhat the same as that person. They have merely had different choices and different life situations that have led them to their (unfortunate) actions and attitudes.
The Duke of Wellington won the Battle of Waterloo, one of the most decisive battles in the history of warfare. Upon the return trip back home, he and his entourage passed a small village, where a person who had done something wrong was being led out to be hanged. One of the Duke’s attendants made a comment about the poor chap. The Duke of Wellington merely said, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
At a moment of huge victory, of giant personal accomplishment, which is a chance for pride, the Duke remembered the intimate connectedness of all people. And the shared status of our being Creatures, who, all of us, have been created by the same Creator out of the same Earth with the same Spirit within us.
No, we don’t need to accept the horrible behavior from an individual(s) in society. We can organize and move to stop evil legislation, for example. However, instead of reacting angrily to it, how might we look at it differently? From that new point of view, from that fresh perspective, how might we respond in a truly creative manner? How might we guide a person, or a government, to health?
And, if we remain centered, we’ll be able to get trump out of office as quickly as possible.
3) A Focus that Teaches; A Focus that Redirects Small Mistakes
Humanity is meant to be having an effect on creation.
Our pets and animals can learn from us. We have effects on them.
How much more do we have effects on other people.
We are social beings. (Capable also of thought and individuality.)
The word “virtue” is related to the ancient Latin word for “strength.” The Latin word for “man” is also cognate with the term.
If we are in a clear position of leadership, with employees, students, or children, how we act is the biggest way in which we can transmit models of behavior for them.
For example: It is good to have a classroom of students in which the young people really care about each other. (I have been a teacher at several places.) At specific times I would give the students brief spans of time when they were permitted to talk. On Friday afternoons I would open the playground and gym for them to have recreation, and it was all a great time.
In class, if two of them were talking at a time when I was teaching, I would try to use the smallest measures possible to refocus their attention. Without skipping a beat in the lecture, I would put my hand out and make motions to get the talkers’ attention and remind them to save their conversation for later. This worked most of the time. No need to get angry at them, to put them down, or to get myself flustered. Simple.
We can do the same with our own person. Instead of getting angry at ourselves about whatever, we say, “Ah, mental note, try to improve on this….” Or: “Ah, mental note, when this situation recurs next time, try to act in this way….”
We tend to respond better to small suggestions for course corrections.
Turning the rudder just a little bit can bring about significant, positive changes.
Well, an entire essay or book could be written just on forgiveness.
One of the desert monks used to invent reasons why he should forgive people.
The Song of Songs says: “Love is stronger than death.” How is that connected to forgiveness?
5) Every dawn is a new Creation. A New Genesis.
God is Love. (1 John 4:8; 4:16)
God wants us to learn to be Love.
God wants to share God’s being with us, and God’s being is Love.
Shunryu Suzuki was a master of Zen Buddhism who came to the U.S. from Japan. He wrote a wonderful book that has one of my favorite book titles: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. We are always beginning. We are always starting afresh. Our being is infinite because God created us and loves us. The more we tap into this reality, the more we will be able to constantly begin again. The more we can begin again, the more we incarnate this Reality in our living life.
We travel lightly. We begin again. We always start over. We always begin. With this attitude in place, we make wonderful progress in God’s good Creation.
There are practices and thoughtful acts of attention that we can do throughout the day to make things better and more integrated in our lives.
With every breath we breathe we give life to the billions of cells in our bodies.
Breath is highly spiritual in all religions. In a moment of silence, even on the subway or bus, we can focus on our breathing. This centers us.
Stretching is good for our overall integration. If we stretch, our body and mind are closer together. Our mind is able to take some time and focus on our body. How the body feels, the joy of the body, the health of the body.
(If you have not been stretching recently, before you start, it would be good to consult a good video, book, or knowledgeable person about this.)
3) Enjoy a cup of tea
Having taught children and adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas, I’ve learned some things about helping people avoid stress and unnecessary tension. All people, including children, can have various stresses upon themselves.
For children, school itself can be stressful.
After work or school, go home. Prepare yourself a cup of tea. How you like it. Sip it in a relaxed way. Enjoy it. Taste it. No other agenda for this time.
(A lot of benefits come from this practice.)
What is a mantra?
A mantra is a word or phrase, often from our favorite Scripture, that we repeat. Silently, interiorly. This radically simple practice has many benefits for us.
Part II of this essay will discuss mantra.
There is a wide range of verbs, nouns, and practices that come under the term “meditation.” This word has been used in many ways.
The next part of this essay will discuss this at greater length too.