Stop – Take a Breath


Balance, mindfulness, serenity, clarity, sanity…they were having a vacation at the beginning of this week.
What made them come back?

Take a breath and hand it over

Lately I have been haunted by a feeling of lack of time, life slipping through my fingers. I was browsing to much aimless minutes and hours on the internet without creating something, I felt dry inside.

Then I applied the S.T.O.P.- technique: Step back, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed. I noticed my feelings by being mindful of them: I felt restless, irritable, discontent, tired and emotional.

Hurry keeps you away from feeling, emotionally and physically. The body is slow, feeling takes time. –

Rob Brandsma

I handed them over to my Higher Power whom I call God. I parked it at his Divine parking lot and waited for answers on what to change.
I started cutting down on my aimless browsing and devoted that time to creating, which made me feel more spiritually alive

Park your guilt elsewhere

Yet a feeling of guilt about accomplishing too little in a week kept nagging me, thereby locking me in a vicious circle of blocking even more.

Over the years I noticed that fear (false evidence appearing real) and guilt (go under in lame thoughts) never brought me anywhere except in misery and life block (an insidious variation on the famous writer’s block). They also lead me into my dreaded enemies procrastination and his comrade fear of failing….
This is what I did: I acknowledged my guilt, parked it again in the Mighty parking lot and waited as patiently as I could.

Rest!

One important thing was bugging me: a feeling of exhaustion.
I can be succinct about what I did about it: If I feel physically tired: I REST. It helped to clear the sky in a very lovely way. I had a siesta of a whooping 3 hours this afternoon. What a luxury!

I slowed down, became mindful: also by rigourously single-tasking, handed over the guilt and monkey busy-ness, started to create again and took it easy, so things really shifted for me today. I feel more rested, more clear-headed, more serene, more connected to what’s good and wise and I am more happy.

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Spiritual toolbox part 6: Silence and rest

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Far from home is a perfect place to start – Switchfoot (song: Golden)

Part I: Struggle to be silent

Silence, peace, rest, prayer, all states I cannot seem to be able to be in at the moment.

There’s always the urge to do stuff, be productive, be active.

There’s always fear of failing, of praying and it not being good enough or simply not enough, so I choose not to pray at all…

There’s guilt, confusion, procrastination, distraction.

The truth is: it is never enough. Jesus died for us on a pole and there isn’t anything we can do to pay Him back. That is called grace.

We may rest in His love and be with Him, broken and flawed as we are. Like the cat in the picture above, just lay back and enjoy the love of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Here’s my prayer:

Dear Lord Jesus,

I love you so much, and I want to be with you so! Please teach me anew how to pray and be silent and restful without measuring and condemning its amount or quality, please take me out of my inertia and dryness, my guilt and my fear of failing in simply being your child, of drowning in things to pray for and then not making a start at all….

Fill me anew with your Holy Spirit. I also pray for my friends and family to fill them too and touch us with your love and grace.

Let me rest in your approval and love for me everyday more. Give me patience to be still and listen to your voice.

In your mighty and victorious name

AMEN

Part II: practicing silence

Wikipedia gives this definition of silence:

Silence is the relative or total lack of audible sound. By analogy, the word silence may also refer to any absence of communication, even in media other than speech.[1] Silence is also used as total communication, in reference to non verbal communication and spiritual connection.

A silent mind, freed from the onslaught of thoughts and thought patterns, is both a goal and an important step in spiritual development. Such “inner silence” is not about the absence of sound; instead, it is understood to bring one in contact with the divine, the ultimate reality, or one’s own true self.[2] Many religious traditions imply the importance of being quiet and still in mind and spirit for transformative and integral spiritual growth to occur. In Christianity, there is the silence of contemplative prayer such as Centering prayer and Christian meditation.

Basil Pennington, one of the best known proponents of the centering prayer technique, has delineated the guidelines for centering prayer:[5]

  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself. Be in love and faith to God.
  2. Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you (i.e. “Jesus“, “Lord,” “God,” “Savior,” “Abba,” “Divine,” “Shalom,” “Spirit,” “Love,” etc.).
  3. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you.
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.

Enjoy the age-old silence prayer techniques, but be careful not to judge yourself on whether you use a technique or not. Remember to just be. That’s enough. You’re good enough. Be a cat, cats don’t fret over being good enough…;-)

Spiritual toolbox part 5: Lectio Divina meditation

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Lectio Divina

What is it?
The first time I heard about Lectio Divina was two years ago on a silent retreat. I read this book by Anselm Gruen: ‘Bronnen van spiritualiteit’ (sources of spirituality) which handled the topic of this ancient Benedictine meditation practice.

Daily life in a Benedictine monastery consisted of three elements: liturgical prayer, manual labor and Lectio Divina: a quiet prayerful reading of the Bible. This slow and thoughtful reading of Scripture, and the ensuing pondering of its meaning, is their meditation. This spiritual practice is called “divine reading”, “sacred reading”, or lectio divina

Lectio Divina has been likened to “Feasting on the Word.” The four parts are

  1. first taking a bite (Lectio),
  2. then chewing on it (Meditatio).
  3. next is the opportunity to savor the essence of it (Oratio).
  4. finally, the Word is digested and made a part of the body (Contemplatio).

What do you need?

  • the decision to take some time out of your day every day, for example 20 to 30 minutes.
  • a candle, an image or an icon of Christ or a Bible to look at
  • a dedicated space to sit down comfortably
  • a passage from the Bible
  • pen and paper

How to do it?
Preparation

  • Sit somewhere comfortable (like on a pillow) and breathe slowly.
  • Close your eyes or keep them open. Do whatever gives you the least distraction.
  • Be silent.
  • Be present to God/Jesus and focused on Him alone. If you experience thoughts, imagine throwing them in a stream of water and letting them float along.
  • Accept all your present emotions: stress, restlessness… They are present. Accept them and they will lessen.
  • Greet God, thank Him that He loves you. Open your heart to Him. Trust that He wants to be with you too.

Meditation


Lectio (reading)

  • Read a small passage from the Bible out loud.

Meditatio (reflection)

  • Start pondering a word (or a few words) from the text that particularly speaks to you. Chew and re-chew it so that it can do something to you. It is more important that the word is doing something to us than that we do something to the word. Let the word sink into your heart.

Oratio (response)

  • Every time you are distracted, you speak the word in order to let it bring you back into silence. Then be silent. Be focused on Him, be present in the moment, you don’t have to do anything. Let your heart speak to God.

Contemplatio (rest)

  • Let go of your own ideas and plans. And you can go deeper: let go of your holy words and thoughts. Simply rest in the Word of God. Listen at the deepest level to God who speaks within you with a still, small voice.

Conclusion
Conclude with a simple prayer of thanksgiving, greeting or signing yourself with a cross: in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Of course all of this takes practice. I personally find it really hard to take the very first step to find the rest to actually sit down and be quiet. I often feel a fear of failure or an urge to be busy. I ask God to help me with this and to grow in intimacy with Him despite my own thoughts and feelings.

What are your experiences in Christian meditation? Please feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter.

Sources:

  1. wikipedia.org
  2. ‘Nieuwe wegen, oude bronnen’ by Victor van Heusden (‘New paths, old sources)
  3. United Church of Christ

Spiritual toolbox part 4: Journaling

Joshua 4:4-7 (New International Version)

4 “So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

Life goes fast. We blow by it everyday. Faster paced all the time. Hurry hurry move on!
‘God where are you? I can’t see you, I can’t hear you!’, we say.
Rush rush, strive, work…

Today I’m proposing a tool to remember, to build stones to remember what the Lord has done in your life. Building rocks by journaling.
First and foremost I am telling it to myself, because I fell off the journaling-wagon two months ago, and I know how it used to help me in the past to feel connected to God and to remember everything he has done in my life by looking back in my old journals whenever I doubted or lost hope.
That’s why I challenge myself and you to pick it up again.

What kind of journaling-tools do I have?

For 2010 I bought myself a nifty Moleskine journal with an elastic strap. In addition I use an easily flowing pen: the ‘uniball eye’ which is also waterproof/fadeproof.

What kind of entries do I make?

Here are some examples:

  • pieces of Scripture to speak to me
  • dreams
  • sense of direction from God: events that trigger me, seem to be led by Him. (It’s nice to review these regularly to see God’s plan for my life, or in this year)
  • prayer requests and answers to prayer
  • questions, struggles
  • quotes from people I meet or spiritual authors
  • everyday events I cherish
  • prayers
  • thanksgiving
  • praise to God
  • pictures
  • newspaper article-snippets
  • poems/songs
  • printed blog posts
  • excerpts of sermons
  • pieces of forumposts with prayer requests or faith related questions with their answers.

My journal looks like a hogdepodge of cut and pasted little notes from my notebook (since my journal is too big to carry around with me and my notepad isn’t). That’s where the elastic strap comes in handy to bind it together neatly.

How to make a habit of journaling?

Make an entry every day for 30 days and tick it off on a little calendar to hold yourself accountable.
What’s my challenge?
I’m going to write in my journal every day from 1st of May to 1st of June 2010 and check my progress every day.
What’s my goal?
To become closer to God again, more attuned to Him and better able to discern his will for my life. Another goal is to collect beautiful stuff from my walking with God for the dry ‘wilderness’ times.

Do you have any experience with journaling?

If so, do share it with me in the comments or on twitter.
And please ask now and then how I’m doing journaling-wise!

Spiritual toolbox part 3: The Examen Prayer

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First of all, I hope you had a fabulous Easter. Jesus is truly risen!!!

Today I want to continue my 10-part series with the Examen Prayer of St. Ignatius de Loyola.

In the beginning of Lent my  Twitter-friend Tara told me she was doing the daily Examen Prayer for Lent, as I was giving up luxury foods and goods.

She made me very curious and I looked up what it was. The Examen was constructed by Ignatius de Loyola, who was the founder of the Roman Catholic Jesuits.

The Examen of Consciousness is a simple prayer directed toward developing a spiritual sensitivity to the special ways God approaches, invites, and calls. Ignatius recommends that the examen be done at least twice per day, and suggests five points of prayer:

  1. Recalling that one is in the holy presence of God
  2. Thanking God for all the blessings one has received
  3. Examining how one has lived his or her day
  4. Asking God for forgiveness
  5. Resolution and offering a prayer of hopeful recommitment
  6. the Examen is usually concluded with the Lord’s prayer

It is important, however, that the person feels free to structure the Examen in a way that is most helpful to him. There is no right way to do it; nor is there a need to go through all of the five points each time.
The basic rule is: Go wherever God draws you.

And this touches upon an important point: the Examen of Consciousness is primarily a time of prayer; it is a “being with God.”

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

  • If you want to have a neat overview of the process you have a look at this handout I found on ignatianspirituality.com that you could print on as a handy leaflet.
  • Lastly I’d like to recommend a very nice resource: an mp3-file of the Examen where you are lead through the whole Examen via audio. You can listen to it if you click on this link:

The Examen prayer audio

Just sit back and pray along. I really love it, although I don’t pray it everyday. And I really appreciate the thanksgiving part of it. It makes me count my blessings. I’d love to get deeper though and really connect with God, lying on the sofa with the Father.

I’d love to hear your experiences with the Examen. Please drop me a comment below or find me on Twitter.