Archive | June, 2014

On Cultivating Stillness

20 Jun

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This week a few people have posted vacation pictures on FB. A couple photos in particular stood out to me. A friend in Maine has been posting images of seaside landscapes and quaint houses with flowerbeds. Another individual, visiting in Alabama, has been posting pictures of the Tennessee River, including the image above.

When I look at this Blue Heron everything in my being seems to stop and calm down. I am temporarily arrested by its beauty and the stillness of the water. The photo calls to mind a different pace – a time when summer was deeply intertwined with a slower rhythm. I remember when summer was a period where children felt occasionally bored and adults sat on their porches in the evenings with a glass of lemonade or a gin and tonic.

Our calendar year is broken into seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Yet unless we live in a region where the climate truly dictates what we can and can’t do, we often lose track of nature’s cycles and rhythms. Instead, the show goes on. Electricity allows us to work until late in the evening and snow plows clear the roads so people can get to work despite terrible conditions. So like the Energizer Bunny, we go and go and go too. Until we are possibly on the brink of collapse.

Yet in some European countries, it is customary for people to take the entire month of August off. For them, summer is a time to pause and to be a little less productive. For me, I think about my childhood summers and how even though I enjoyed school, it was nice not to have to be up early every morning and to follow a set routine. I enjoyed reading books in bed, watching re-runs of “Leave It To Beaver,” and spending hours outside. Though an adult now, and without the luxury of discretionary free time, my spirit still pines for it. My soul wants a period of less structure and more spontaneity. It wants time for rest, a little boredom, and no agenda. Although a challenge, I think it’s possible to cultivate a bit of stillness within the chaos of summer activities, family gatherings, work, and social commitments. It might be that we spend a weekend reading a novel instead of running endless errands. Maybe we get take out food or eat peanut butter out of a jar, if we don’t want to hassle with the grocery store. Perhaps we do more exercise or spend time in nature to break the pattern of our never ending racing thoughts. Then again, we might simply look at this photo and for a few seconds, stare out at the greater expanse of existence where we can be still and know God.

The FB Prism of Fatherhood

15 Jun

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The other day on the radio, I heard an announcer say that the most important job in the world is being a father (or mother) but as this weekend is Father’s Day, the man was speaking about dads. And I couldn’t agree more that the shaping of another human being is probably the vocation people should take most seriously. That does not however mean that everyone does.

Whenever we have one of these national honoring of parent days, it’s impossible not to think a little about the role of mothers and fathers in our lives and what it might mean to be a parent (or not to be). Most Father’s Days I am on auto-pilot. My own father died in 2002 and prior to that, I had been estranged from him for fourteen years. But with the advent of FB, I can’t fully forget about the day if I log on, which happened this morning. I had temporarily forgotten that it was Father’s Day. FB reminded me.

A dear friend of mine, who I have known over twenty years has just had a baby. I see his groggy face as he holds the tiniest of babies next to his physical frame. My boyfriend has a picture of he and his teenage girls as his banner photo. And another friend has posted a collage of photos of she and her dad, including the fact that he wrote her daily while she was away at boarding school. My own dad, who I saw for the first time in years while he was dying of cancer merely asked me what kind of car I was driving. He didn’t acknowledge all the years lost in-between or ask what I did for a living, whether I was married, or if I had kids. He didn’t seem too concerned with whether or not I was happy because upon no longer being an extension of him, he didn’t recognize me. Yet at one point, I had been the apple of his eye.

I could be sad over my own relationship with my father. There were years when I was down right livid and there are still times when subconscious feelings seep up out of the depths showing me that no matter how much I think I’ve moved on, there are more layers to this onion. But for the most part, when I feel pain, it is in tandem with witnessing a more legitimate form of fatherly love. So it’s a mixed bag. While it’s difficult to acknowledge what one didn’t get, it’s hopeful to see that there is a another way of doing things. I am also keenly aware that nothing in life is black or white. I remember what it felt like to be loved and someone’s daughter, even if it was a highly distorted version of it. Most parents are simply doing the best they can. And at some point, if we can, we forgive them their humanity and the sins of the fathers.

I am due to go to church today and I will remember, as I always do, that there is a Supreme Father/Mother/Creator and that s/he will not let us be orphans.

Focusing….

6 Jun

In yoga there is a balance pose that entails wrapping one’s leg around the other while standing with a semi-bent leg and then placing one’s arm over the other arm and twisting them into a pretzel-like shape. The only way to hold the pose without toppling over is to stare straight ahead at a point on the wall and not dare take your gaze away – not even for a second. I am actually quite good at this for some reason. Perhaps it is because I learned a similar technique as a child in ballet where in order to turn without getting dizzy you have to “spot” somewhere on the wall as your head and body spin around in rapid succession.

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Activities like yoga help us practice more than physical actions; they help us apply some of these concepts into our lives. How do we find balance? And how can we execute and accomplish anything when so many things compete for our attention?

I am finding that in this day of cell phones, email, multiple social and work circles, personal relationships and all of the things that compete for our attention, moment by moment I have to ask myself, “Where is the spot on the wall?” There are times when I simply have to tune out everything but the one thing that needs my focus be it a person, a loved one, an animal, or a complex task. Yet more than anything I have to focus on God as my source. He is the spot that keeps me sane and when I remember that, it is easier to concentrate during the day.

Related, Stephen Covey in his very well known book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” writes about the importance of centering one’s life around key priorities vs. abstract tasks. The latter is endless and will always bleed your life force while the former will actually help you stay centered and efficient around what really matters.

I must remember that as long as I spot, I can find my balance. And I must remember that this is a spiritual practice vs. yet one more thing I am attempting to control. Here’s to focusing so intently, the paradox results in surrender.