Week 1: Being present

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Living life is like a haiku*: less is better and simple is more poignant.

This week I want to focus on getting more clarity and simplicity in my head: spiritual, mental and emotional space. Here are two tools I recently rediscovered to tame my wild and busy head: Meditation and yoga

Why meditation and yoga?

I hope (and have already experienced) to be more present in the here and now, being less busy and judgmental in my head, having less wants (vs. needs), creating a sense of having and being ‘enough’.

Meditation

A few weeks ago I resumed my meditation practice, with the help of the book Get Some Headspace by Andy Puddicombe, a British former buddhist monk. My eye fell on it, when I was browsing the bookshelves at our local library.

It was the very first book I ever read that REALLY explained meditation in a simple way. A true light bulb moment for me! I could totally pull this off!

At Andy’s website, I found a good definition of meditation:

So, what is meditation anyway? In a nutshell, meditation is the practice of paying attention and focusing awareness – in short, being fully conscious of the here and now. (…)What is meditation good for? More clarity and less stress.

Yoga

Last Saturday I also returned to my yoga practice at a beautiful new yoga school in Amsterdam. I attended a class called: ‘yin yoga’. I found it a very interesting form of yoga, focusing on body sensations during long stretching poses (5 or 6 minutes long) and looking mindfully and with curiosity to the response of the mind. My head became more still, because of the intense physical sensations and the awesome teacher that kept reminding us to go back to our body and breathing.

Starting my week right

So this week I commit to doing yoga three times, and meditating everyday at least once, during five or ten minutes. I also commit to bringing the resulting sense of (self) acceptance and (self) compassion, with me into my day.

As my dear friend says:

‘May you be happy, healthy and at ease this week!’

Peace!

Ester

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the Benedict Project 2: Going to bed on time

After two weeks of attempting to get up early, I learned three things:

  1. I am powerless over snoozing and getting up late in general and I can only ask God to take it away from me
  2. it helps if I go to bed 9 hours before I have to get up
  3. it is about progress, not perfection (it does NOT help to beat myself up over it)

It humbled me to experience, that not everything I put my mind to is happening the way I want it too. I have to follow God’s guidance .

Hearken continually within thine heart, O son, giving attentive ear to the precepts of thy master [God]*

I will accept myself, but I will strive for more anyway. Gretchen Rubin puts it like this:

Although I have not yet succeeded in getting up early in the morning, I gained some valuable insights and I will continue to press on, adding a second goal: going to bed on time in the evening.

I’ve been having a great conversation with a reader the past weeks, who made some clever suggestions to make going to bed easier:

  • a 20-30 minute walk before sleep/ shut down the computer at 8:30 pm
  • no more snacks/cookies in the evening
  • drinking a decaffeinated cup of tea

I’d recommend herbal tea with chamomile, lavender or valerian, like Pukka’s Night time blend… Coffee is definitely a no-go for me!

My idea is to make the time before I go to bed an unwinding, closing ritual, inspired by the Benedictine Monks.

5 pm**: the monks have their sunset evening prayer service called Vespers

6 pm: dinner in silence while one monk reads something from Scripture or other literature

7-8 pm: Benedict prescribes the silent reading of ‘edifying literature’ in the evening by the monks in their cells (rooms).

8 pm: End of the day-prayers are said: Compline.
Afterwards Great Silence is observed: everybody goes to their rooms and is completely silent.

What speaks to me about the monks’ ritual is that they stick to a fixed bedtime, which is part of their daily ‘order’ or schedule. What also appeals to me is the strict application of silence in the Benedictine routine.
I’d love to experience in my own life the kind of freedom those ‘restrictions’ must give in the mind and the body.

Keeping all this wisdom in mind, I’ve come to a proposition for myself for this week, which I hope to develop into an evening ritual.

  • EAT 6:15 pm dinner. Note: after dinner: no computer!!
  • READ 6:45 pm Bible reading and prayer with my husband (myVespers‘)
  • CLEAN 7:00 pm cleaning up: 15 minutes kitchen and 15 minutes tidying the living room
  • FREE 7:30 – 8:30 pm free time to: hang out with husband and animals, read, take a luxury bath, call a friend, write a letter, drink herbal tea, listen to classical music…
  • PREPARE 8:30 pm prepare lunch and backpack for next day, pick clothes for next day, look at my appointments, feed the rabbits / tidy their cages
  • WALK 9:00 pm walk the dog (unhurried and in gratitude of the day)
  • CLEAN ME 9:30 pm wash, put on pj’s, write in 1-sentence journal
  • PRAY 9:50 pm short prayer and 5 minutes of silent meditation in my ‘meditation room’: my ‘Compline‘. I hope to expand the prayer and meditation in the future, but I want to start small to create a habit.
  • SLEEP 10 pm: in bed and eyes closed ;-). The Great Silence has begun!

I need 9 hours sleep nowadays, so this means I will be able to get up at 7am if I’ll stick to my bedtime routine.

For inspiration, I have composed a ‘Morning Moodboard‘ and a ‘Time To Go To bed-Moodboard’  at Pinterest.

Let me know your proposed evening ritual and let’s encourage each other for 1,5 week to stick to it and share our experience in the comments.

Please take a minute to leave a comment now, I’d really appreciate it!
And if you like what you’ve read, go ahead and sign up for the e-mail list or via rss!! Thanks for supporting me, it means a lot…
love and peace,
Ester
You can also find me on: Facebook, Google + or Twitter.

p.s.: If you want to read more about this topic: Gretchen Rubin just happened to write the post: ‘I can never go to bed on time!’, featuring an awesome video.

* Rule of Benedict: Prologue

** the times of the day vary a little in each monastery but are the same each day.

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