Troubling the Tyranny of the Ordinary

Reading and reflecting upon Christian Wiman’s book, My Bright Abyss, has become my latest meditation practice. These words were perfect for me today:

“Heading home from work, irritated by my busyness and the sense of wasted days, shouldering through the strangers who merge and flow together on Michigan Avenue, merge and flow in the mirrored facades, I flash past the rapt eyes and undecayed face of my grandmother, lit and lost at once. In a board meeting, bored to oblivion, I hear a pen scrape like a fingernail on a cell wall, watch the glasses sweat as if even water wanted out, when suddenly, at the center of the long table, light makes of a bell-shaped pitcher a bell that rings in no place on earth.”

Earlier, Wiman writes that “the very act of attention troubles the tyranny of the ordinary.” His words called me back to life, to the specificity of each moment. It feels as if, over this past month when all I had time for was getting stuff done, I have been trapped in the tyranny of the ordinary. But Wiman, like a good prophet, shows me the way back to life through the pen that scrapes like a fingernail on a cell wall and the glass that sweats as if even the water wants out. These details in the most boring of board meetings point to the vitality and the ‘moreness’ of life that is available to us if we are paying attention, if we sharpen our minds and spirits to cut cleanly to the beating organ beneath its protective skin. God is not dormant in this poet’s world. Instead, God is everywhere—in every thing and every one—including me.

[Feature Image by Enid Martindale]

Paying Attention

16526168288_a4fa676e2b_oI’ve been working my way through a new book during my morning writing time called, “The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.”  This book by Brenda Miller (love her essays, which led me to this book) and Holly J. Hughes resonates with my intersecting interests of mindfulness meditation and writing.  I am also realizing that I am paying much better attention to life now that I have made my practice of writing a priority.

All this led me to rediscover this brief piece I wrote five years ago for my old blog.  It reminds me of the wonderful things my children teach me every day, as long as I am paying attention.

This afternoon over a lunch of hot dogs and mashed potatoes our 3-year-old son said, “Mommy, I’m putting on my sun block so I won’t get a sunburn.” “Mmm Hmm, that’s nice honey,” I responded paying more attention to my lunch than to what he was actually saying. Then he said it again. “Mommy, I’m putting on my sun block so I won’t get a sunburn.” This time I heard him because his insistent tone practically begged me to pay attention, to look his way. So I looked. He had smeared ketchup all over his face, legs, and neck – the part of him most likely to burn in the sun.

Paying attention really is important in life. If you don’t pay attention you might miss something terrible—like your son smearing ketchup all over himself. If you don’t pay attention you also might miss something wonderful—like your son smearing ketchup all over himself.

[Feature Image: Mike Mozart]

 

The Practice of Doing Nothing: A Magnetic Experience

magnet-strength-magnet-on-clipsI’ve been leading a meditation group on Fridays at 4:00pm for the past three years. It never really took off, though, until this year when I became serious about my own meditation practice. It’s fascinated me to witness more and more students who have been drawn to sit with me in silence each Friday. Honestly, it seems like exactly the thing this techno-addicted generation would avoid. So I can’t really explain it, but the more I meditate, the more magnetic I feel—attracting students to this time and space of attentive stillness.

The whole experience of leading this group has been life-giving for me. It’s exciting to feel how the students are drawn to the group. It’s incredibly easy for me to prepare—all I have to do is maintain my practice and inspiration about how to lead the next group always comes. Also, the feedback I get oftentimes validates what I am learning.

For instance, a few weeks ago, following one of our meditations, I shared an observation.   I had been noticing that as I meditated and focused on my breath, the thoughts that interrupted me that were thoughts of the future (things I needed to do, conversations I imagined having, dreams of what might come) always entered my mind from the right side. On the other hand, thoughts of the past (events I relived and replayed, memories, past hurts) entered my mind from the left. So the phrase “staying centered” took on literal meaning as I sought to focus my mind in its center, on what is right in front of me and in the present moment. This has been helpful to my practice, so I shared it with my students. As I did, one of them gasped, “Oh my gosh! That’s exactly what happens to me!” Others affirmed a similar experience so we paused to contemplate and marvel over the way our minds work and what we can learn when we pay attention.

I recently heard someone describe how his practice of meditation has “softened” him. This rang true of my practice as well. I’ve been surprised to discover meditation softening me to others—not just those who irritate me, but everyone: the colleagues I work with, my students, people I see on the news. At first, meditation felt like a very me-centered, self-absorbed practice. But by diving deeply into myself and paying careful attention to all that is inside of me, I’m finding that I not only learn about myself but about what it means to be human and what we all hold in common. It’s a gift I keep going back to for more and more and more. It’s magnetic.